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Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mountaineering Training | Steady State Workouts

Building an endurance base takes more than just long easy-paced workouts. Long workouts create the muscular efficiency to deal with long miles, but moderate intensity intervals and steady state workouts are important for building a solid endurance circulatory system that, in concert with your long workouts, makes up your endurance base. A great aspect of steady state training is that you can incorporate it in a variety of training mediums: running, mountain biking, road biking, swimming, rowing, or hiking.  

A steady state workout encompasses a sustained period of hard effort, paced just under what you would consider your race pace or the maximum pace that you can sustain for a given distance. Sustained efforts between twenty minutes and an hour and fifteen minutes have been shown to be most effective for this type of training. There is an obvious difference in pace between a twenty-minute effort and an hour plus effort: the goal is to sustain the pace that you start the workout at all the way until the end of the workout. The pace is typically about 10% less than your maximum effort over a similar time period. You can use a variety of methods to measure your pace and success of the workout: heart rate monitors, your minutes per mile, or for those with more experience, basing your pace on perceived effort or feel, are all effective methods. Though the pace is below your maximum effort, this workout is uncomfortable, and one of the biggest challenges is to stay with the workout mentally and maintain the pace throughout without letting the pace drop. This mental component is also great training for climbers, since this is exactly the mental toughness that you need in the midst of a tough stretch of terrain.  

Note: As the intensity of your workouts increase, the importance of a quality warm-up and cool-down cannot be overstated. This is a really important aspect for preventing injuries.

Steady state workouts provide a couple of key training objectives. Accomplished over several months as part of an endurance building block, these workouts increase cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by the heart), decrease resting heart rate, and increase lactate threshold. To increase cardiac output, your body is stimulated to increase the capillary network that delivers oxygenated blood to your muscles, to increase the capacity of existing capillaries, and to increase your blood volume. These factors help your circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and remove waste products. An increase in your lactate threshold indicates that your body is able to remove lactate efficiently at higher levels of effort, so that you can exercise harder and longer before fatiguing. Finally, a drop in resting heart rate indicates that your heart is operating more efficiently, delivering blood to your muscles with less effort.  

The training gains from incorporating steady state training into your routine will help you push longer and harder in the mountains, and the ability to move more blood that contains more oxygen will do nothing but help with the effects of altitude as well! These are difficult workouts, but keep your head in the game and push hard all the way through the end and you’ll be amazed at your endurance gains!


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

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Hello Jon! I am actually looking for training information for Mt. Rainier, next June, 2019. I came across your comment posted in January of 2018, re: Mt. Kilimanjaro. My son’s girlfriend and her aunt just completed Kilimanjaro!! There were a couple 53 and approx. 55 year old women on this climb; including my son’s gf’s aunt! It was challenging; but they did it! I think you can access the notes from the climb. Go for it! I am looking to get strong and ready for Mt. Rainier next June; I will be 61, I totally understand your questions! :-) Hope you got to move forward on this, and either have since completed Mt. Kilimanjaro, or will soon!

Posted by: Shelby Schneider on 9/19/2018 at 5:55 pm

I am a previous customer of RMI, having climbed Rainier a few years ago.
I am interested in the Kili trek.
What is the average age of the group, typically?
I will be 64 in August.
I dont want to travel half way around the world and spend all that $$$$ and not complete the mission! I dont want to be the guy ‘holding up the expedition’ so to speak.
What is your feeling about the trek vs. my age
PS: I am in good physical condition, and work out daily.


Posted by: Jon Mitovich on 1/18/2018 at 1:28 pm

Mountaineering Training | Mindful Movement

As a skiing and climbing guide, athlete, and yoga instructor, I am continually impressed by the correlation between success in the mountains and a regular yoga or meditation practice. In my personal experience, by taking time each day to completely focus my attention on simple movements in conjunction with controlled breathing, even for a just a short period of time, I have found that I can dramatically increase my ability to handle a higher mental stress load and consciously reign in a respiratory-system-gone-rogue.

The primary intention behind a yoga practice is the alignment of a series of movements with the coordination of the breath. Beyond the poses, aside from the stretching, before the flow, and without regard to the brand of clothing you choose to wear or the space in which you practice, is the synchronization of intentional movements with focused and controlled breathing. That is the essence of yoga.

One of my favorite quotes is by Sharon Gannon: “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you areas where you are resistant in your natural state”. Instead of hand-eye coordination, think body-breath coordination.

This training allows the individual the ability to more easily and calmly focus on a specific task and execute difficult movements with precision—especially, and perhaps most importantly—when pushing towards exhaustion.

The goal of starting a mindful movement practice is in taking this basic principle and applying it to any activity of your choosing.

I understand yoga is not for everyone. Personally, I love the quiet space, the dance of a well-sequenced vinyasa flow, and in the winter months I crave the warmth and full body lymphatic cleanse of a heated studio; they are always significantly cozier than the mid-January temperature of my 1920’s craftsman and warm my core after a day of skiing far better than even the highest, most overworked setting of my Subaru's seat-heating capabilities. That being said, I know plenty of guides and world-class athletes who firmly believe that yoga—of any sort—is not, and never will be, for them.

The secret is that these individuals find other activities with which to strengthen their mental game and incorporate mindful movement. Biking, running, swimming, pilates, even those post-work hikes with a heavy pack, all provide the opportunity to spend a few moments really thinking about and tuning in to your body positioning, your motor patterns, the rate and quality of your breath, all while tuning out the external static of life.

So my challenge for you in writing this blog post, if not to inspire you to rush off and attend the nearest yoga class, is to move through a few minutes of your next workout focused on not just exercising, but moving with intention, breathing in coordination with the efforts of your activity, and turning off the music in an effort to quiet your mind and direct your attention entirely to the task at hand. By practicing mindful movement in your daily tasks and familiar workouts, you will increase and strengthen your ability to use those same techniques to lower your respiratory rate and remain calm, thus allowing you to be more relaxed and move more efficiently when confronted with new and/or difficult tasks in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment for a longer period of time: situations much like those found on Mt. Rainier and other alpine objectives around the world.


Solveig Waterfall is an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide and has been working professionally in the mountains for 12 years. She guides in Alaska as well as the continental U.S., Ecuador, Mexico, and Argentina.  She also teaches backcountry skiing programs and ski mountaineering courses for RMI. Outside of guiding, she instructs yoga and fitness classes designed to complement an active life outdoors.

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

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I have been taking yoga classes for the past 10 or 11 years now I don’t know perhaps longer and I can seriously identify with all the techniques Strank’s and benefits that you ascribe to taking yoga classes with regard to clarity of thought power of intention and overall mental strength conditioning as you delineate the Power of Yoga elementals.

Possibly the greatest payoff to the sports enthusiast is the concept of correlation of each of the aspects you point out into an efficient unified focused and energized state of mind!

These Very qualities derived from my own Baptiste Power Yoga practice have been an important element of whatever success I’ve had in Mountaineering, and many other strenuous, challenging and sometimes dangerous pursuits

I’d like to share a specific example from a recent Guided Assent of Mt Baker, North Face with RMI August 25-27 2019

This Climb was considerably more challenging than my previous RMI Guided Assents of Rainiers DC Route or Kautz route, which I did with you Solvieg in 2017

I was not aware of just how much more challenging it was going to be

As our 6 person team got higher and higher on the mountain, the route became steeper and steeper until we were Climbing vertical ice cliffs!

The Glaciers were pretty bare and we had to retrace our steps several times as what was an uninterrupted route up the Mountain had become a very broken route up the mountain…

What all this absolutely reinforced was the essential Need to Completely Trust the Skill of the Guides and execution of ALL instructions from the guides immediately and without question!

Absolute Resolution of Focus and consistent galvanization of thought to decision to action!!

Every Single step, Every single ice pick thrust… spacing of turns, rope slack, managing challenges, breaks, managing each emerging concern as they arise…

One of the strongest contributors to success on that kind of Expedition, on that Kind of Mountain for me was the years of Learning and practicing the Yoga strengths and tools you so eloquently pointed out

Looking forward to another Rainier Assent in 2021 and hopefully a Denali Assent 2022

Posted by: Ken Tessier on 3/3/2020 at 7:36 pm

Beautiful article!  You inspire me.

Posted by: Patti sandow on 10/12/2017 at 9:11 pm

Mountaineering Training | Building a Training Community

There are few elite athletes in the world who train alone. They have a community of other athletes and coaches that are there alongside them for much of their training. It’s difficult to quantify the motivational role that that community provides, but needless to say, it is a huge part of athletes’ success. How often after a big event do we hear someone thank their coaches, their partners, and their teammates. Whether it’s a teammate suffering alongside you or a coach challenging you to do one more, we train better when we have a community. Many of us don’t though. Whether a result of where we live, the hours of the day that are available for us to train, not knowing any like-minded athletes that are working towards similar goals, many of us train in a vacuum relying solely on the motivation that we can conjure up. That motivation for most of us is incredible. Year after year, we climb with thousands of climbers who have performed monumental feats of training with only a voice in the back of their head as motivation and that is inspirational. Could it be easier though, could it be more effective? Absolutely. The interconnectedness of our lives with the Internet can be a really strong tool. While we might not have a training partner physically there with us, we can see what they’ve done, look at their stats, maps, and efforts, and use that to motivate and challenge ourselves. When we post that back to the community, our effort can serve as someone else’s motivation, and as a group, we all train harder, smarter, better, and show up fitter and ready to climb.  As an attempt towards creating this sort of community around us as climbers, we’ve created a club on Strava that we invite everyone to join. You can find it at https://www.strava.com/clubs/rmiexpeditions. Post your workouts, peruse those of others to gain inspiration, and have discussions about training plans and ideas. We accomplish some amazing feats, and we also all go through dark days in our training when things don’t seem to be going right. Let’s let this community strengthen us. As such, let’s keep our conversations positive and constructive. For some, it may be intimidating to post their workout in an open environment like this, but realize that inspiration from your workout may be just what someone else needs to take a step up in their training. Get motivated, have some fun, and enjoy some friendly challenges. We’re excited to see what everyone is up to! _____ Questions? Comments? Check out the RMIExpeditions Club on Strava and share your thoughts there or here, on the RMI Blog!
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Mountaineering Training | Training Through the Holidays

Thanksgiving marks the beginning for many of a busy holiday season filled with visiting family, kids home from school, shopping and errands to run, and delicious meals. Busy days entertaining, traveling, or preparing can put pressure on your training time, and the changing weather doesn’t always help either. Your training plan is important, but during the often stressful holiday season remember that adapting, changing, rescheduling that plan is ok. A missed workout won’t affect your performance six months from now (though missing a week might), and shortening a workout is always better than canceling it completely. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind during the festive times: Involve your family, friends, and guests: It’s easier to stick to your routine if you can involve others. Find a hike to make a group outing to, and make a day of it. Your guests get to have a nice adventure, stretch their legs, and get a few photos. You get some endurance base training in. If you have to slow the pace a bit, it’s ok; you’re still getting the miles in and improving your endurance base. You can increase your workload by offering to carry the group’s water bottles, jackets, cameras, and other odds and ends. Use the mornings: Vacations often mean sleeping in, dawdling over a cup of coffee and breakfast, and enjoying time off. Try waking up 45 minutes earlier than you would and getting out the door for a run, hike, bike, or strength session. If you go to bed with a plan for the morning, it’s easy to get your workout done before anybody else has even gotten out of bed! Have a few quick go-to workouts: Some days get busy, and the workout you may have planned just doesn’t fit. Having a few 30 – 45-minute workouts in reserve can be the difference between skipping your training entirely, and getting out the door. A couple of ideas are:
  • a yoga session
  • a core strength session
  • short intense intervals (6 x 1minute)
  • a 30-minute tempo run
  • or an easy 45-minute recovery run before the big meal
  • Remember to enjoy it: We head to the mountains because they bring us enjoyment, we spend time with family and friends because it brings enjoyment, and hopefully our training brings a measure of enjoyment as well. If your training regime becomes a chore that you feel like you have to get done, but dread doing, switch things up and spend a couple of days doing activities because you enjoy them rather than for their training benefits. When you find enjoyment in your training, you’ll train harder and more effectively, and it will be easier to get out the door. Similarly, don’t let the stress of fitting in training take away from enjoying the time you spend with friends and family. It is that time of the season after all! _____ Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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    New to skinning flatlander Canadian skis east NA.
    Great articles for second year older skier. Thanks T

    Posted by: Tim murphy on 1/16/2017 at 2:40 pm

    Mountaineering Training | Improving Fat Oxidation

    This is the second of a two part series looking at the benefits of improving rates of fat metabolism to prevent or delay bonking in endurance sports. For week one of the series, click here.

    Last week, we introduced the idea of training or developing fat metabolism to preserve glycogen stores, utilize our body’s largest energy store, and ultimately prevent “bonking” while climbing. This week we’ll look at how to accomplish it!

    There are two main components that we can alter to affect our body’s use of fat: diet and training. The two work hand in hand – a change in diet without a focus on aerobic training volume is of little use, as anaerobic workouts require glycogen by definition, and aerobic training volume while continuing to eat a high carbohydrate diet will cause little change in your body’s metabolic pathways.


    The key to training fat metabolism is to adjust your diet to take in more calories from fat than carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean you need to take in more calories overall, but instead, shift the nutritional balance of your diet. These diets have taken on the moniker LCHF or low carb high fat in studies and the media. There are a number of specific diets out there that align with this description (the paleo diet, the Atkins diet) but the specific diet is less important for the purposes of an athlete than the nutritional balance. Some articles suggest about 15% of your daily calories coming from carbohydrates, which is a significant shift for those of us that have trained under the paradigm of carbohydrate loading!

    Changing our diet to make carbohydrates more scarce, and fats more plentiful accomplishes several things that will ultimately help our fat oxidation rates. The first is that when sugar is present in the bloodstream at high levels, insulin is released to control rates of blood sugar—extremely high rates of blood sugar are treated as a toxin by the body—and consequently insulin is a fat oxidation inhibitor, as the body wants to burn off the excess sugar and uses the opportunity. If we keep our levels of blood sugar lower with diet, our body releases less insulin, and fat oxidation rates are not suppressed.

    Second, while sugar is easily transported across cell membranes and into cells, fats require transport by specific enzymes. Reducing our blood sugar and allowing fat oxidation to take place stimulates the production of these fat transport enzymes, so that fat can be brought into the cells at higher rates and utilized.

    Finally, mitochondria are responsible for oxidizing fat and producing the ATP that fuel our cells. By reducing our carbohydrate fuel and relying more on fat, we stimulate the growth of mitochondria in the cells. Studies of athletes that are efficient fat oxidizers vs. sugar burners show a significant increase in mitochondrial density in the muscle cells.

    Training Type

    Our body is able to burn fat as fuel during aerobic exercise – those workouts and efforts that stay at level 3 or below. Once we cross the anaerobic threshold into lactate production, glycogen is the only fuel source that the body uses for energy production, so the stimulus to oxidize fat is gone. Thus fat oxidation is best trained during an aerobic base or volume phase, when the preponderance of workouts focus on relatively lower intensity, higher volume (hours or miles).

    This isn’t a process that can be changed overnight. The cellular development that is required to shift your metabolic pathways takes time and sustained stimulation to change. With dedication to diet and training, studies show marked improvement in rates of fat oxidation after 8 to 12 weeks, so stick with it!

    It’s often tempting as athletes to take things too far: if more of something is better, even more of it must be better still. Fat oxidation alone isn’t enough to keep up with our energy demands when we are training heavily for a climb. Therefore, maintaining some carbohydrates in your diet is important. Think of it as replenishing the fuel you spend: a workout of harder intensity will deplete your glycogen stores more; a 4 hour workout will require some carbohydrate fuel intake during the workout to prevent depleting glycogen stores as well. For those who want to really dig into the numbers, Alan Couzens has a calculator for balancing your nutritional intake depending on the phase of your training plan, hours, etc. It is designed for ironman triathletes, but can provide some interesting numbers for us as climbers as well!

    For more reading Alan Couzens has a number of interesting blogs on the subject. A good one to start with is Improving Fat Oxidation. Also see Deborah Schulman's Fuel on Fat for the Long Run.

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

    Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

    I know this was posted some time ago, and it’s a good reminder get back to the low carb/ no sugar diet that I have done a few different times over the last couple of years.  However, I have a major question and challenge which is:

    How to sustain this type of diet in the backcountry? 

    I’ve had a few different foods that work, but the limitation of boiling water for heating/reheating food is a pretty big obstacle to doing this in backcountry settings (I’ve yet to do an actual ski mountaineering trip but it’s coming up).  Any tips there would be very welcome.


    Posted by: Zachary Richmond on 1/16/2017 at 11:50 am

    Regarding training for fellow
    Find a hotel or office building that has a minimum of 10 stories but preferably 20-30 or more. Ask the manager for permission and train!
    I will carry a weighted pack up the stairs and take the elevator down. I often wear my climbing double boots to simulate the real thing!

    Posted by: Eli Berko on 1/15/2017 at 5:40 pm

    Mountaineering Training | Becoming Bonk Proof

    Climbing is a long and demanding endeavor, with a typical summit day on Rainier or Denali stretching for twelve to fifteen hours. Every time you take a step, your muscles require energy in the form of ATP to be able to fire. ATP is created within the muscle cells by mitochondria from two main nutrients: carbohydrates and fat.

    For many years, athletes have focused on their carbohydrate intake as the key to performance. Carbohydrates provide a readily accessible and easily digestible energy source for your body, which is the reason that they are the main content in most sports foods; just look at the labels of shot blocks, Gu’s, bars, energy drinks, and the like, and you will see a heavy focus on sugar. There is a good reason for this: your body has a limited ability to digest food while exercising (digestion requires energy of its own), and carbohydrates and sugars are the easiest to digest, requiring little to be done to the glucose components before they enter the bloodstream and are carried to the cells.

    The main issue with a reliance on carbohydrates is that your body has the ability to store a finite supply of glucose in the muscle cells and the liver in the form of glycogen. For trained athletes that are efficient with their energy usage, that store still only lasts for about 2 hours of sustained hard effort. If you aren’t familiar with the term “bonking,” it’s that feeling when your performance drops off a cliff; you don’t feel like you are working that hard aerobically, but you can’t possibly go any faster or harder. You’ve run through those glycogen stores and your muscles are out of fuel. Eating while you exercise can help to delay bonking, but your body can only process about 250 Kcal of sugar per hour, far less than you expend over the same period. Even though we are replenishing our sugar fuel, we dip further and further into those reserves as summit day goes on. At the same time, even the leanest among us carries over 24 hours of energy in the form of fat stores. Wouldn’t it be nice to recruit those stores while you are climbing?

    Fatty acids are the most energy dense nutrients in our diet and our body stores them readily. They create more ATP per unit than sugars, and our body’s ability to store them can leave us with a huge reserve energy supply. The problem is that when fatty acids and sugars are both present, our metabolisms preference burning the sugars for energy. Julia Goedecke is a sports scientist who has been examining the influence of fat oxidation (metabolism) in endurance athletes. In examining rates of fat oxidation in athletes at different intensity levels, she found a vast difference in overall rates of fat oxidation. Some burned nearly no fat at rest, while others metabolized nearly 100% fat at rest, but while there were differences in overall rates of fat metabolism, those who metabolized more fat at rest derived more of their energy from fat at all intensity levels too. This would suggest that if we can train our metabolism to derive a greater percentage of our energy from fat, it will continue to do that as we up our intensity climbing, and we will use our sugar reserves more slowly, and hopefully avoid the dreaded “bonk!”

    Now that we’ve introduced the idea of developing your fat metabolism, stay tuned next week as we get into the details about how to accomplish it.


    For more reading Alan Couzens has a number of interesting blogs on the subject. A good one to start with is Improving Fat Oxidation.

    Questions? Comments? Do you have experience applying LCHF nutrition to endurance sports? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

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    I have climbed Mt. Rainier twice now.  The first time was not good.  I did not finish. I had misplaced a contact lense.  The second time was much better.  I was a lot stronger with the second climb.  It was a nice day and we all summited.  It was a very nice day.  I have climbed Mt. Hood and have climbed Mt Adams now.  Both were nice climbs. 

    Posted by: Mark Brashem on 2/1/2022 at 5:03 pm

    Those that burn more than “trace” amounts of fat while at rest or during strenuous output are fat adapted. They have gone through the process of fat adaptation by employing a lifestyle of Low Carb, Keto, etc. You don’t get there overnight and in fact some, despite their efforts, never attain it at all. And once your body becomes fat adapted, you have to maintain it too effectively utilize fat as energy. The use of a blood ketone meter is is good tool to monitor your level. That being said, the problem we face as Climbers, is how do we maintain a fat adapted state while travelling? Have you ever attempted to maintain the 75/20/5 (fat, protein, carb) ratio while in India, Pakistan, Nepal, etc? Good luck. Unless you have your food air-dropped in, or pull off the impossible and transport all of your food you will ingest over the next 4-6 weeks from home, you are stuck with noodles, rice, and junk food snacks, all high carb food, which once ingested, rocket you straight out of your fat adapted state. And back to square one. This dilemma is something i am struggling with for 2023 when i next travel to Asia. I know what i can do here on Whitney, Gorgonio and Jacinto while fat adapted and in ketosis, yes, lower elevations than Asia, but if i can some how figure out the food logistics for Asia, i will be Superman! Doesn’t look promising though.

    Posted by: Al on 3/8/2021 at 9:54 am

    Training with a Heart Rate Monitor

    Heart rate monitors are a useful tool for planning, executing, and tracking your training. By tracking your heart rate throughout a workout, you can get a more accurate idea of the real intensity of the activity versus the perceived, and can adjust your current or future workouts to accordingly. Not all heart rate monitors are the same however, and they aren’t anything more than a tool to be more informed about the progression of your training. Smartphones can do almost everything now and indeed, some of the newest phones include a small finger scanner that can detect your heart rate. Watches have also evolved to track your heart rate from your wrist without the chest strap that used to be required, though the top models still use a chest strap, albeit with improved technology. The difference between the three styles really lies in the accuracy of the measurement. While it’s nifty to be able to see what your heart rate is on your phone, it can’t track your heart rate throughout a workout, only at discrete points in time when you choose to scan it and to be effective for training, it’s best to have a picture of what your heart rate looked like throughout the workout. Watches that measure your pulse through your wrist generally use reflected infrared or LED light to measure changes in the size of capillaries as an indication of a heartbeat. While these watches will track your heart rate throughout a workout, they tend to not be as accurate as the models that use a chest strap since you move and bounce while you exercise. Ultimately it offers only a rough picture of your pulse throughout. For an accurate idea of your training intensity, newer dedicated heart rate monitors with chest straps use conductive fabric and microprocessors that analyze your EKG, giving a detailed and accurate picture of your entire workout. What does using a heart rate monitor get you? First and foremost, a heart rate monitor gives you the ability to track your training more accurately. Heart rate monitors use versions of the 5 training zones that most athletes utilize, so you can begin to build an accurate picture of how much time you spend in each zone and how effective a given period, week, or workout might have been for you. A heart rate monitor can also help you to hit your target intensity zone for a given workout. This works in both directions; it can help you to tone it down on your long level 2 endurance training if you start to push a little hard, or it can let you know that you need to push even harder to make it to your target L4 zone on a set of intervals. Tracking your heart rate over a period of time can also give you a picture of your overall fitness. As your training pays off, your resting heart rate should drop, and you will find yourself covering more ground and going faster, but at the same intensity. Conversely, a sudden spike in your resting heart rate may indicate that your training load is adding up and that you need to focus a bit more on recovery. A heart rate monitor won’t make you fitter, but it can give you a lot of valuable information that allows you to create a more informed training plan. _____ Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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    Posted by: Smith Henrry on 2/26/2020 at 12:45 am

    Prepping for Alpine Climbing: Basic Rock Movement

    Alpine climbing requires a lot of different skills.  Alpinists are constantly route finding, assessing hazards, protecting exposed areas, and moving efficiently in the terrain. If you’re climbing with a qualified guide, they’ll take care of the big picture and you’ll just need to focus on the movement skills. Moving efficiently in technical terrain is what makes climbing challenging and fun - there’s always something to learn and ways to improve.  The better you move, the less energy a climb will take and the more you’ll be able to focus on what’s going on around you and enjoy the climb.  On classic alpine climbs, like Forbidden Peak’s West Ridge, Sahale’s Quien Sabe or Shuksan’s Fisher Chimneys, basic rock climbing skills are the key to moving efficiently on summit day. These skills only get better with practice, and adding some balance and rock movement skills to your training regime can give you a big leg up. With a few pointers and some practice, you can develop your rock movement skills so that you stay on your feet, use less energy and are more confident on rock before you arrive in the mountains. Basic rock movement is similar to how you walk already, with a little more attention paid to the physics at your feet. Here are some techniques that you can use to effectively move on rock: Climbing with your eyes I constantly remind my clients to “climb with their eyes.” Look around the terrain, find the easiest path, and plan it out a few steps ahead of time. Finding the easiest way up takes a good deal of focus while you climb, but it’s a great way to stay engaged and it saves a great deal of energy over the course of a long day. As you climb, look for features that resemble stairs – level platforms that you can get your entire boot on. This allows you to use a minimal amount of energy for balance and makes it easy to use a technique called the rest step.  If you can find a natural staircase up the mountain it’s just walking! Edging When you can’t find large stair-like features in the rock, you have to lower your standards. Instead of using a perfect stair, you may be reduced to placing the edge of your boot onto a tiny feature.  This is called edging.  The smaller the features you are edging on, the more effort and balance it takes to keep from slipping off.  Keep climbing with your eyes and look for the biggest features possible! Edging allows you to climb very steep, relatively blank rock faces. It’s tougher physically and much less secure than stepping onto boot-sized platforms.  With some practice you’ll be able to get up steep, technical rock and begin to feel comfortable on it.  The more time you spend practicing on different sized edges and on different types of rock (granite, limestone, sandstone, basalt, etc) the more you’ll recognize how secure you are on those features. Check out this video from Eastern Mountain Sports on edging skills! Smearing  Smearing uses the friction and adhesion between your boot soles and the rock grip surfaces that are too smooth or sloped to edge on. To get maximize your grip you need to do two things: 1. maximize the contact area between your soles and the rock 2. make sure the force you’re exerting is perpendicular to the rock surface. This means putting the rubber to the road, or in this case, the boot sole to the slab.  Articulate your knees and ankles so that the sole of your boot matches the angle of the rock.  By putting as much rubber on the rock as you can, you increase the adhesion of the rubber soles to the rock and can grip some surprisingly steep slopes. Make sure to apply your body weight as close to perpendicular to the rock as you can.  This boils down to keeping your weight directly above your feet by keeping your posture upright.  With your back straight and your head high, your weight will naturally rest directly above your feet.  This keeps the normal force of your bodyweight pushing into the rock, which increases friction.  The more friction, the better the grip and the more you can relax and look around to plan your next moves. This body positioning is counter-intuitive for most people.  Climbers that are unaware of their body position often lean forward, putting their body weight uphill of their boots, changing the direction of the normal force towards parallel with the rock, and reducing friction, resulting in a slip.  It’s very common, especially when terrain gets steeper, to want to lean in toward the rock – resist the urge and climb strong! Here's another EMS video showing smearing skills. With both edging and smearing, the more practice you get the more comfortable you’ll be on challenging rock. You’ll develop a more realistic assessment of how secure your foot placements are and that will make a huge difference in how efficient you are.  Being more confident with your foot placements will allow you to relax on difficult terrain and you will save a ton of energy. You can practice these techniques at home. Get started at your local climbing gym or sniff out small rock outcroppings if you don’t have access to a rock gym.  Keep your practice low on the rocks so that you don’t get stuck on top of something- it’s always easier to climb up rock than it is to down climb! _____ Zeb Blais is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. Zeb splits his time between the Sierras in California and the North Cascades of Washington. He guides worldwide for RMI, from Aconcagua to Mexico, Rainier to Alaska. A passionate skier, Zeb spends his free time pursuing personal adventures around the world, including an attempted traverse of the Fedchenko Glacier of Tajikistan.  Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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    Cross Training For Mountaineering

    As athletes, we tend to preference the training activities that we enjoy doing and are also best at. It’s entirely natural for these tendencies to crop up, but often they do so at the expense of those workouts that we don’t enjoy as much or struggle with. This can affect both the quality and quantity of those less enticing activities. For instance, as people that enjoy spending time in the mountains, your weekend five-hour hike with a pack may be the highlight of your whole week and you may find yourself pushing those five hours to six or seven, seeking out new destinations. The mid-week weight room or interval workout that you dread however may be the first item on your calendar that is expendable, pushed out by the sudden schedule conflict that arises.   Cross training is a great way to find new ways to accomplish the workouts that you don’t enjoy, and to focus on an underserved portion of your training. In general, while we want to keep the bulk of our training focused towards mountaineering (walking up and downhill with heavy weight), some training outside of that goal will still bring benefits. If you have been training a lot of cardiovascular, working on leg strength is going to help you carry your pack. Flexibility will help to prevent injuries, and keep your muscles working optimally. Thus, seek out opportunities for interesting new ways to accomplish your training goals.   Anaerobic: Nearly all ball sports have a heavy anaerobic interval component to them. Think about the last time you watched or played a soccer game: players spend a good portion of the time walking or jogging up and down the field without the ball, interspersed with flurries of dead out sprints to or with the ball. Pick your favorite and try to find a pickup game or league nearby. Similarly, tennis, racquetball, and squash all will get you to that anaerobic zone. Mountain biking is another great natural interval sport, as it boosts your heart rate on nearly every climb, with a recovery roll afterwards.   Strength: Rock climbing gyms and yoga studios are a great place to seek out alternative core strength options. Both activities engage a large part of the core and upper body, and have a great community component to them. While it has a strong cardiovascular focus, swimming also trains the core and upper body in a low impact way.   Flexibility and balance: Yoga is probably the most common flexibility activity that most people do today. There are lots of different classes with different focuses. If a class you tried wasn’t working, check out a different type. Often, studios offer a “yoga for athletes” class, where the focus on flexibility in the key problem areas for most athletes is increased. You can also jump outside of the box and join a gymnastics class.   Endurance: If you dread the long workouts, there isn’t a great substitute for them, but you can vary your activities. Start a rotation of running, cycling, hiking, swimming, and rowing. Give yourself another goal and boost by periodically signing up for races so that you have immediate goals that you are working towards. Ultimately though, there is no substitute for long endurance training.   Cross training won’t fully prepare you for your next mountaineering adventure, and it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your preparation, but it can add some spice and give a boost to a neglected portion of your overall training. Seek out the fun opportunities and figure out how they fit into your plan. _____ Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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    The Flatlander’s Guide to Training for Mountaineering

    The vast majority of climbers that come climb Mt. Rainier with us live in decidedly unmountainous places. As a former fellow flatlander, I can sympathize. There is actually a surprising amount of training literature out there targeted at folks living in mountain towns (think gaining 3,000 feet twice a week), and recently, folks training for high end alpinism (think Steve House). But when it comes to “Joe Climber” living in Kansas hoping to be strong on Denali or Mt. Rainier, in my experience there is a real gap in available resources. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I certainly have strong opinions as to how best to go about this type of training, based on my own personal experience. And so, without further ado, I present to you the 4 principles of the flatlander’s guide to mountaineering training:

    Diversify your training. Face it. You live in the Midwest. The terrain that directly simulates your mountaineering objective does not exist in your backyard. Therefore no single exercise or activity can adequately prepare you for that objective, which means that you must pursue a wide variety of training activities. If all “Joe Climber” does to train for his Rainier climb is run, he will be in great shape for running. But he will not be in great shape for Rainier. Which leads me to the second principle...

    Emphasize strength training. When we say you need to be strong for the mountains, we mean that quite literally. Carrying big loads uphill and downhill day after day requires a significant amount of muscle recruitment, and you can’t recruit it if it’s not there. The majority of my time training in the flatlands is actually spent in the gym, performing exercises that emphasize muscular and core strength. I’ll save my personal lifting program for another article, but I’m a big believer in free weights and olympic lifting, rather than machines. Performing a squat using perfect technique not only builds strength in your butt, quads, and calves, but also strengthens your core/low back and improves your balance. No single machine can do all this, and machines can even lead to injury by over-strengthening certain muscle groups at the expense of others.

    When it comes to cardio, think long duration/low intensity. As a mountaineer, we work best in our aerobic zone. This is why we pressure breathe, rest step, and do everything we can to conserve energy in the mountains. So when we train, it makes sense to maximize our output in what Steve House and Scott Johnston refer to as “Zone 1.” To quote their book, Training for the New Alpinism, “Improving [Zone 1 fitness] will pay bigger dividends in alpine climbing than time spent improving any other quality because it allows you to sustain higher submaximal climbing speeds for longer times” (58). And to reiterate my first principle, mix it up! I’ll run, I’ll swim, I’ll bike, I’ll run up stadium stairs if available. But when I do, I’ll shoot to be moving for at least 90 minutes.

    The best defense against altitude is hyper-attentive self care before and during the trip. Altitude weighs heavily on most climbers’ minds pre-trip (particularly those climbers living in the flatlands), and for good reason: more than any other aspect of a mountaineering trip, how your body responds to altitude is the one factor you can’t fully control. But you can stack the odds heavily in your favor. Before the trip leaves, be sure you are on a consistent and complete sleep schedule. Be sure you are eating well. I’ve talked to guides who swear by airborne, or probiotics. Everyone’s a little different, but if you find a supplement that consistently keeps you healthy, go with it. On the trip itself, dealing with altitude becomes even more straightforward. Never let yourself get too cold. Force yourself to eat. Force yourself to drink. Force yourself to breathe. The climbers that take these four concepts to heart, nine times out of ten, are the climbers who summit.

    So what do you do with these principles? Well, you construct a training schedule. My schedule, as a college student in Massachusetts training for Denali, looked something like this:

    Monday: AM-swim PM-lift

    Tuesday: PM-water jug hill repeats

    Wednesday: PM-circuit training/lift

    Thursday: PM-long run (90 min+)

    Friday: AM-swim PM-lift

    Saturday: PM-bike

    Sunday: Rest

    There are a lot of ways to construct a solid training schedule. I was limited that year by classes, other obligations, and going rock and ice climbing whenever I got the chance. But keeping in mind the four principles, I was able to train my way into comfort on Denali, all while living in a flat location. Now, train hard, rest hard, and I’ll see you in the mountains!


    Pepper Dee grew up in Missouri, but found his love for the mountains at an early age. Based out of Bozeman, he guides trips on Mt. Rainier, Denali, and abroad to Aconcagua. A long time flatlander, Pepper knows what it takes to prepare for a big climb without the luxury of mountains in his backyard.

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

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    if you have any west Virginia climbers a good training location is the Kaymoor Miners trail in Fayetteville WV on the New River Gorge.  About 900 ft elevation over all.  the bottom 1/2 is a stairs of 821 steps.  great workout!

    Posted by: rob dunn on 3/14/2017 at 11:39 am

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