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RMI Expeditions 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


Know Snow - Getting Under Winter’s Blanket

Before the big mountain bug bit me, I viewed snow as a blanket that came in the winter and lay quietly in place ‘til spring’s thaw. All that changed when I decided it wise to educate myself about avalanches. Taking part in the introductory Level 1 avalanche education course, I quickly learned how the snowpack, terrain, and triggers (like climbers or cornice falls) can transform that quiet blanket into a raging white dragon. Interested in learning more about this beast, I enrolled in a Level 2 avalanche course a few years later, and came to understand that each layer of snow that falls forms something of geologic record in that season’s snowpack: if the snow falls warm, that layer will stay warm for a long time; if hail falls, it can be evident in the snowpack months later. Even more incredibly—similar to plates of geologic sedimentary matter—that seemingly silent white winter blanket is often actively undergoing radical metamorphosis due to vapor and temperature differences in the layers. 

This February—with the support of the RMI Guide Grant—I participated in a Level 3 course.  It’s something of a graduate level course in the University of Avalanches: A rigorous curriculum that explores the intricacies of snowpack dynamics and the techniques used to assess how stable the snowpack is. Our course took place in the Wasatch Mountains and it began a few days after one of that area’s avalanche forecasters had declared it one of the weirdest snowpacks ever. An excellent classroom had been arranged!

A key focus of the course was learning to quickly identify weak layers in the snowpack and then to assess the structure of that instability. One aspect of instability has to do with the kinds of snow crystals in between the layers. A Cliff Notes summary would be: square ones are bad, round ones are good.  But how can you tell with something so small? Were they the good guys or the bad guys? First, I had to identify which layer to look at, a process of first poking the snow with my finger to determine layer interfaces, and then prodding it with a fist, four fingers, one finger, a pencil, or a knife to get some grip on the specific hardnesses.  Once all that was established, it was time to sort out the good from the bad.  Somewhat ironically, amidst all of the grandeur of the Wasatch, I was often peering into the little lens of a snow microscope looking at the edges of myriad little bits of snow to determine their personalities. 

Kel examines the universe of snowflakes with the hubble.   Jake Hutchinson/American Avalanche Institute

Ultimately, beyond peering down a microscope, knowing the snow is a very sensory experience, incorporating sight, sound, and touch in order to determine its stability: windslabs are often squeaky like styrofoam, while faceted grains bounce off a gloved hand and make for a poor snowball. Of course, once stability is determined, the sensory experience is the pure enjoyment—how well does it ski?  Through careful tracking of the Wasatch area over our week of study, we knew that north aspects were retaining the best snow. So, after our final exam, involving each person doing a complete analysis of the season’s snowpack and weaknesses, we gathered together for a final run back into the front-country.  We ripped our skins and then laid tracks down a beautiful bowl, each up us kicking up huge roostertails of powder joy—a reward for all of our diligent study.

Jake Hutchinson of the American Avalanche Institute demonstrates an extended column test.   Kel Rossiter

The pleasures of backcountry skiing and the benefits of big mountain climbing with skis are becoming increasingly known in the outdoor world and RMI is right out in front of the trend. Safely partaking of those pleasures and benefits involves really coming to know the snow.  While in its essence knowledge of the snow is like knowledge itself, where “The more one knows the more one knows they don’t completely understand,” coming away from the Level 3 avalanche course, I feel good in knowing that I’m keeping the learning edge sharp.  That sharp edge will aid me whether cramponing up alpine routes on Rainier or schussing down couloirs in the North Cascades. 


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!


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.

I’ll continue another week with my specific lifting regimen, so keep you eyes open. For 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!


Ecuador Seminar: Nugent & Team Travel Back to Quito for a Celebration and Flights Home

Yesterday was a big day for all of us up on Chimborazo and thankfully the near perfect weather allowed us to stand on top! All in all our summit day took 13 some hours round trip including a deceptively difficult two-hour walk across the summit plateau from the Veintimilla summit to the barely higher Whymper summit. Riddled with deep trenches and fantastic snow mushrooms, what should have taken no more than an hour was a brutal two hour jaunt back and forth. We were fortunate enough to enjoy perfectly calm winds and clear skies on top, which made it not so bad. We even got to peep some views of Cotopaxi smoking in the distance before gearing up for our descent. We were greeted warmly back at the Estrella de Chimborazo where we ate a celebratory dinner and promptly crashed in their cozy beds. Right now we are on the bus headed back for Quito where we hope to have one last celebratory dinner as a team before at least half of us head for the airport to catch a red-eye flight home. All in all it was a quite an adventure and I’d like to thank the team for rolling with the punches the whole trip and hanging in there til the end. And I’d also like to thank the other guides, Chase, David, and Diego along with Victor, our driver, for all the help along the way.

Until next time…

RMI Guide Billy Nugent


Ecuador Seminar: Nugent & Team Summit Chimborazo!

Hey it’s Billy checking in. We are all back safe and sound at our camp on Chimborazo. We’re about to actually hike on down to the bus. We had a safe and successful climb to the summit today. Just about perfect weather most of the day. That’s all I have to report. Long, long day- everyone is super tired but definitely big smiles on our faces. As we were just talking about this, it totally rethinks our whole trip down here. That’s all I have for now. Signing off and we’ll check in again tomorrow evening at the end of the trip.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent


RMI Guide Billy Nugent checks in post Chimborazo summit.

Congratulations to the team on successfully summiting!!!  Go…..Jason!!!  How exciting!!!

Posted by: Esther & Dean Chapman on 2/13/2016 at 4:57 pm

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