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RMI Expeditions Blog

Mt. Rainier: The Winter Seminar Reaches 13,000’

The Winter Seminar aborted their summit attempt this morning.  At 13,000’ the team came upon a crevasse making that elevation their high point. RMI Guide Brent Okita reported that winds were about 30-35 mph and some blue skies were peeking through cloud layers above and below them on the mountain.
The guides said everyone on the team did an amazing job and all are safely back at Camp Muir enjoying some hot drinks. Once the team refuels, they are going to do some more training before calling it a day.

RMI Guides Brent Okita and Elias de Andres Martos

Way to go Jason!

Posted by: Brian on 4/15/2016 at 8:22 am

I’m so proud of you JoshuaBlu! I can’t wait to hear all about this trip!

Posted by: Melinda on 4/15/2016 at 7:54 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!

Mt. Rainier: The Winter Seminar Enjoy Spectacular Views to Camp Muir

The April 10th Winter Seminar had a beautiful day on the Muir Snowfield. The strong crew made their way up to Camp Muir taking in the Cascades and surrounding views. The team, being led by RMI Guides Brent Okita and Elias de Andres Martos, checked in this morning. The winds during the night at Camp Muir had some strong gusts but are currently tapering off. The team checked in via radio while having breakfast and getting ready for a day of training.

WoW !!!! What an amazing landscape !!!! Hope you’ll be able to climb up to the summit :)

Posted by: Marika, Philipe, Rémy & Mayla on 4/13/2016 at 3:23 pm

Kyajo Ri and Ama Dablam: Successful Fall Expedition to the Khumbu

RMI guide Elías de Andrés-Martos and office member Bridget Schletty returned last fall from a 5-week expedition the Himalaya, completing and exploratory climb of Kyajo Ri as well as climbing Ama Dablam.

By Bridget Schletty

We headed to Nepal in early October with the intention of climbing and exploring in the Khumbu region. In this, our 4th trip to the highest mountain range in the world, our objectives weren’t going to be any of the 8,000m peaks in the range, but smaller peaks in the 6,000m vicinity, focusing more on the style we used to climb them.

Our trip started with an exploratory trek to the base of the Mahalangur Himal, a subrange that encompasses Cho Oyu, and that contains a few unclimbed peaks we wanted to check out for a potential future climb. Reaching the rarely frequented southern base camp of Cho Oyu, the 6th tallest mountain in the world, provided great acclimatization, and spending several days in this secluded area was an incomparable experience. After breathing the thin air, looking at the Tibetan border, photographing wild yaks, and circumnavigating alpine lakes at 18,000ft, our time was up; we were ready for our first climbing objective: Kyajo Ri, which rises to 20,295’ between the trekking routes to Gokyo and Thame.

Camp 1 on Kyajo Ri.   Elias de Andres Martos

We headed to the Kyajo Dranka, a valley between the renowned Cholatse Peak and the Rolwaling mountains. We did not see a single soul, save our team of porters, from the moment we left the standard trail between Namche and the presumed Base Camp around 14,400ft. At that point, we waved goodbye to them as well, pitched a tent and spent the night; the next morning we’d start our one-push climb of this remote peak. While we were focused on attempting this peak in alpine style (only the stuff we could carry in our packs, climbing straight up without doing carries or fixing any of the route), it turned out that the discoveries of beauty along the 4-day push to the summit were the true reward. We did climb an incredible, steep ridgeline guarded by a few technical pitches of rock and mixed terrain, but the hanging glacial lakes, the vertical rock walls protecting the access to the valleys, and the solitude we encountered were more captivating than our success in style and technique.

Bridgett and teammate Lonnie on the summit of Kyajo Ri.   Elias de Andres Martos

With this objective tackled, we could have headed home satisfied with our climbing ambitions; however, we had laid eyes on another peak on previous expeditions, often recognized as the most beautiful peak in the Khumbu: Ama Dablam (“The Mother’s Jewel Box”), a 22,349-ft tower of rock, snow, and ice. Perfectly acclimatized now, we were charged up to try and move as quickly as we could. With a few days rest in Namche Bazaar, we had 2 days to make it to BC. Once there, we corroborated the weather forecast, and with no extra time to hang out, we had to start climbing and use the following 3 days to go up.

Steep and involved from just a few hours out of Base Camp, the route only seems to be more impenetrable as you move up it. Making it to C1 proved to be a heads-up as to why this mountain is only successfully summited by less than 25% of the people who try it. Focusing on our plan, we settled in for the night, knowing the most difficult terrain lay ahead. An early start the next morning was mandatory; getting stuffed along the fixed terrain near the Yellow Tower could be a drag, and arriving there with no space to pitch a tent, a nightmare. Despite being the first party to arrive at this iconic landmark, with only 6 or 7 feasible tent spots, it was disheartening to find other teams had already claimed the prime real estate during previous carries. Luckily our minimalist style had us travelling with a small Bibler tent, which we made fit on the only remaining spindrift, a good portion of which was sticking out over the almost 5,000’ cliff of the SW face.

Bridgett en route to Camp 2 on Ama Dablam.   Elias de Andres Martos

Clearly we had no choice but to spend the least amount of time possible there. We decided to forego Camp 3 and attempt the summit that very night, from Camp 2. A 9pm wake-up was delayed by high winds, but by 11:45pm, we were on the move. Ascending through mixed terrain (nearly vertical snow slopes and incredibly exposed rock traverses) proved to be demanding and involved. Fixed lines protected the exposed terrain which allowed us to push the pace to stay on schedule, moving as quickly as we could. By 4am we reached Camp 3 to the amazed, yet encouraging eyes of the team that, at that time, was preparing to depart.

“Where are you coming from?” asked one climber.
“Camp 2,” Elías responded.
“You continuing up?”

At that point, the high winds that had delayed our departure came back with a vengeance, and the most bitterly cold temps we’ve ever experienced convinced me to stay put, keep all my fingers and toes, and allow Elías to have a quick crack at the summit. (It would only be “a few hours.”)

Benefitting from the ultimate gesture of Sherpa hospitality, I was welcomed into a small frosty tent, where 5 local climbing guides were sipping their last cup of warm milk and eating handfuls of champa (roasted barley grits) before departing for their summit bid. There was something a bit surreal about being handed a hot beverage from strangers in puffy down suits and 8,000-m boots at 4AM and dozing off to the comforting aroma of incense burning over a tiny camp stove.

Just as the sun hit the tent, a voice woke me up from my slumber. Elías was back from the summit, urging me to grab gear and continue down; accomplished but tired, he was eager to return to the comforts of lower elevations. An uneventful but quick descent took us to Camp 2, with enough time to continue farther down. After a 16 hour day, Elías had gone from Camp 2 to the summit (foregoing C3) and all the way down to C1. Perhaps it was the promise of chocolate cake and a real bed that kept us speeding along towards the finish line! Three days later, we reached the Lukla airstrip, where the adventures had begun 5 weeks before.

Following the obligatory “duffle shuffle” day back in Kathmandu, we arranged to spend our last day in Nepal volunteering with TRIFC, an NGO based in Bellevue, WA. This group focuses on children with disabilities. We gathered with an eager group of blind children and adults at the climbing gym in the central tourist district of Thamel. The morning was filled with encouraging cheers, lighthearted giggles, and proud smiles, as we coached our excited athletes up and down the wall. After a pleasant group meal, in which many of our assumptions about physical limits were restructured, we were shuttled to a home and rehab center for physically impaired youth.

There were, no doubt, plenty of signs of adversity: cracks in the walls from the recent earthquakes, transportation complications, and the social stigma and financial struggles that families with disabled children face in Nepal. Yet spirits were high as we witnessed how well these children had learned to cope despite the odds being against them. Prosthetic limbs and other physical deformities didn’t keep any of these youngsters from going to school, playing their favorite sports, doing household chores, and even hosting a dance performance for us!

We will strive to hold these memories close the next time we find ourselves wallowing in self-pity high on a frozen mountain. We are so fortunate to be able to push our bodies to their limit and venture into the serenity of remote Himalayan regions – and to do so among people who welcome visitors with open hearts and doors.
Bridget Schletty and Elias de Andres Martos are a husband and wife climbing team. Elias guides worldwide from the Himalaya to Peru for RMI Expeditions, and Bridget spends the summers helping out climbers in the front office of RMI. This was their fourth expedition to the Himalaya, with previous expeditions including a successful climb of Shishapangma. Elias will be guiding an expedition to Kyajo Ri this fall! They call Ridgeway, CO home when they aren’t traveling the world.

Enjoyed this post immensely. Had read Lonnie’s account previously, so your perspective added great detail.

Posted by: Dennis Mashue on 4/4/2016 at 8:02 am

Great read. Loved it.  As I know your and Elias’s climbing attitude, reading this was all the more enjoyable.

Posted by: Kenzie Campbell on 4/2/2016 at 7:36 pm

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!

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 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!

Mt. Rainier: The Winter Seminar Trains at Camp Muir in Between Winter Storms

The first Expedition Skill Seminar - Winter gathered in Ashford on Sunday for a day of technical training and gear checks.  With large packs and a daunting weather forecast the team headed for Paradise as soon as the park gate opened.  The team camped above Paradise for their first night out with better than expected weather.  After breakfast the following morning the team broke camp and made the ascent to Camp Muir. They have spent the remaining days training at 10,000’.  Unfortunately the weather forecast did become accurate and the team experienced a full winter storm on Mt. Rainier which prevented them from climbing higher than Camp Muir.

The seminar wraps up tomorrow. We look forward to seeing them at Rainier BaseCamp tomorrow afternoon.

I’m sure the storm was pretty wild because the wind was whipping in Royal City and the pass was getting pretty heavy snow!  So the other day I went flying around the mountain to see how much snow she got.  She was getting getting wind whipped pretty had and has a pretty good pack.  Let me know if you want to see pictures!

Posted by: Paul Davies on 3/18/2016 at 7:33 am

Mexico’s Volcanoes: Schellens, Frank & Team Hunker Down

It’s been a mixed day of weather here on the flanks of Ixta. The group awoke to clear skies and pleasant temps this morning, but an ominous forecast threatened that the good weather would probably not last.
We loaded our packs after breakfast and began climbing toward our high camp at 15,000ft. Slowly the wind began to pick up as we gained altitude until it was blowing 25-30mph when we arrived at camp. It was an easy decision to leave our tents packed and we opted instead to move into the nearby Refugio De Los Cien.
We are currently spread inside the Refugio listening to the wind blow in strong gusts. Every so often someone builds up the courage to venture outside to go to the bathroom but is quickly forced back inside.
We have our fingers crossed for improving weather, but the conditions right now don’t give us much hope for a summit bid tomorrow.

RMI Guides Geoff Schellens and Eric Frank


Mexico’s Volcanoes: Schellens, Frank & Team Head to Ixta

This morning we woke up, packed, and loaded into our van without coffee!! We made this bold move knowing that 40 minutes down the road we would be rewarded with perhaps the best breakfast buffet in Mexico. We ate our fill and loaded back in the van, now fully caffeinated, to drive onto Amecameca to resupply on water and fresh food. Here we also met our local guide, Alfreado, and our support team. After an hour we were back in the van winding up the mountain roads to Paso De Cortez and onto the Altzomoni Hut at the foot of Ixta. Our home in the clouds, at close to 13,000’ the Altzomoni Hut is a great step in our overall acclimatization schedule.

Unfortunately the weather is cloudy and windy so we haven’t yet been able to see Ixta; hopefully tomorrow. We are currently enjoying a delicious authentic taco dinner and discussing logistics of our hike to high camp tomorrow. Everyone is doing very well and having fun.  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather for us and thanks for following along.

The RMI Mexico Volcanoes Team
RMI Guides Geoff Schellens and Eric Frank

On The Map

Mexico’s Volcanoes: Schellens & Team Acclimate at La Malinche

The Mexican Volcanoes team got an early start this morning, and by 10am we were above the Mexico City fog and enjoying the mountains around us. A two-hour drive brought us to the high altitude resort of Malintzi, a collection of rustic cabins with million dollar views of the valley below.
Towering above Malintzi is the peak, La Malinche at 14,640ft. Recent storms have covered the upper flanks of the mountain with snow and as we hiked uphill this afternoon we noticed more and more snow. Eventually, around 13,300 ft, we felt that we had gone far enough and decided to head downhill.
Back in Malintzi we enjoyed an incredible dinner of carne asada.

Thanks for following along on our adventure.

RMI Guide Geoff Schellens

Mexico’s Volcanoes: Schellens, Frank & Team Gather in Mexico City

After long journeys from all over the US we finally gathered at our hotel in Mexico City.  Excitement and anticipation were high throughout the group as we discussed the upcoming trip. We then made our way through the noise Saturday night streets of Zona Rosa, Mexico City, to an authentic Mexican restaurant called, El Refugio Fonda. After a decadent meal, we picked our way back to the hotel to pack and get some rest before we set off on the first leg of our trip tomorrow. Thanks for following along with us here in Mexico.

RMI Guides Geoff Schellens & Eric Frank

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