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Entries By billy haas

August 12, 2015

Mountaineering Training | RMI Guide Billy Haas’ Efficiency Techniques for the Mountains

As climbers we make every effort to be as lazy as possible.  We seek to accomplish our goals and objectives with as little effort as necessary, and will cringe at the idea of making something harder than it needs to be.  This may seem contrary to the image of climbing as an extreme activity during which many people find their physical and mental limit. However, a we often choose objectives that are at the peak of our abilities and thus we are required to maximize efficiency in our effort if we are to succeed.  What I refer to tongue-in-cheek as laziness is in reality efficiency: efficiency, which can be found in every aspect of mountain existence.  Whether it be the way a rock climber positions their body on a route or an alpine climber packs for an expedition, success in the mountains involves high levels of efficiency.  

There some methods of efficiency that don’t directly involve the physical act of climbing but rather things you can do prior to and while climbing that can give you a leg up. I refer to these as “putting money in the bank.”  I think that saying came from a high school teacher referring to gimme questions on an exam, but for me “money in the bank” means any techniques or tricks that can give you an efficiency advantage in the mountains.  I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned from my time in the mountains with a specific focus on climbing Mt. Rainier:

  • A great place to start improving your efficiency in the mountains begins with your equipment: what equipment are you using and does it work for you? Place a high priority on critical items such as boots and or packs, and worry less about items such as a fancy headlamp or spork.  For me, a well-fit boot that is designed for the type of climbing I am doing is imperative.  A good boot can mean the difference between a successful summit and a failed attempt; blisters and cold feet should never thwart a climber’s chance at the summit.  In addition, find a climbing pack that carries weight well and fits you properly.  Forget all the fancy features and pockets; a simple and minimalist pack that fits and carries weight well is what I look for.  You might be able to get by with an old pack or a warm weather climbing boot, but why chance it? Having the right gear for the task makes for one less thing that could slow you down.
  • Maintaining your gear makes a big difference too.  I regularly spend a few hours taking care of small issues that have cropped up with my equipment to make sure that everything is going to work well when I need it to and not fail when it really counts.  I trust my life to my equipment and so do others.  For example, I frequently re-waterproof my gloves and Gore-Tex jackets.  A headlamp is no good if your batteries run out, and a boot will not work as well if the laces snap.  Not every piece of equipment needs to be new, but it does need to work properly.  Climbing is too much fun to be hampered by equipment issues!
  • With the right gear and everything dialed in, you need to pack it all up.  As guides, we seem to have a magical ability to pack 50 liters of gear into a 30 liter pack, but what may seem to be magic is really just some good common sense.  My favorite metaphor for packing is “brick and mortar.”  Some of your items are going to be bricks (eg: sleeping bag in stuff sack) and some are going to be mortar (eg: puffy jacket).  When packing, also consider multi-use items.  A 1/2 liter nalgene makes for a great coffee mug and can also carry an extra 1/2 liter of water when you need it.  You want to maximize space and value in your pack.  Crampons don’t need a crampon case, since quite often wrapping them in your gaiters works just fine and saves space and weight.  Putting some time and thought into a well-packed kit can often fit in a smaller pack.  Smaller packs equal lighter packs, giving you a little more money in the bank.
  • With packing complete, there are still a few more things you can do before a climb that will get you ahead.  For me this starts with my nutrition and hydration.  On Mt. Rainier, I’ve found that from the time I leave home in the morning to the time my team is hiking out of Paradise (approx. 1.5 hours), I can easily sip down a liter of water.  Don’t chug water, but slowly sip a liter in the morning and on the bus ride to Paradise. This will help make sure that you are hydrated for the beginning of your climb.  Pre-hydration, which can start as early as the night before, allows me to bring less water during a climb (less weight), and helps prevent dehydration.  I can recover more quickly, and can focus on other aspects of the climb instead of staving off dehydration.
  • With regards to nutrition, my best suggestion is to learn your own body.  I know how much fuel my body needs at a high level of activity, which is less than some of my friends but definitely more than others.  For two-day trips such as Mt. Rainer, I try to be as precise as I can with the amount of food I bring.  Start by factoring around 200 calories per break and then adjust from there to your specific needs.  In addition to that, bring foods you enjoy eating and can eat while exercising.  I love pizza, but definitely wouldn’t want a slice in the middle of a climb.  Remember; when we climb at altitude the effort is roughly similar to how our bodies feel during a slow jog.  Focus on foods that hold a lot of caloric value.  By bringing the right food and bring only the food you’ll need, you’ll save space and carry less weight.
  • Lastly, be efficient with your time.  When taking a break, maximize your time resting and recovering. Get your self-care chores done early and quickly so that you get as much time off of your feet as possible.  This applies to getting to camp also.  Take care of business first so that you spend a maximum amount of time recovering later.  Use momentum to your advantage: we take short breaks so we do not lose our momentum, and when you roll into camp use that same momentum to set up and settle in before you are too tired to do the things you should have done.  This might be setting up camp or dealing with a pesky blister; the sooner you get it done the sooner you can rest.  Keep in mind that even if we feel great we still need to recover!

These are just a few theories on how to be more efficient while climbing.  Climbers are constantly in opposition with gravity and time, so a light pack will allow us to expend less energy, and quick recoveries will make us stronger for the next day.  Every bit of money in the bank you can save will give you a better chance of success on the mountain, and will be one less issue to worry about.  Learn from others, and learn what works best for you.  Take the time to find the right gear, pack well, eat and drink right, and maximize your rest because the climb is not getting any easier and the mountains are not getting any smaller!

Billy Haas guides trips on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, and abroad for RMI Expeditions. When not traveling to mountains around the world to climb or ski, Billy guides backcountry skiing and teaches avalanche courses in Salt Lake City, UT.

Questions? Comments? What are your suggestions for staying efficient in the mountains? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog

May 31, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Descend to 14K Camp, Airstrip by Morning

Sunday, May 31st 1:54pm PDT

Mike Walter called from 14K Camp on Mt. McKinley. Both his team and RMI Guide Pete Van Deventer team will be heading down to 11,000’ Camp or 7800’ Camp tonight. Their plan is to be at the airstrip in the morning. If the weather cooperates, they will be in Talkeetna by tomorrow afternoon. 

RMI Guide Mike Walter

Mike…Congratulation to you + your team…Walter

Posted by: Waltero on 6/2/2015 at 5:53 am

May 30, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team on Summit!

Update Saturday, May 30th 8:30 pm PDT

Mike Walter & team were safely back at camp by 6 pm PDT. They will begin their descent to Basecamp tomorrow.

Saturday, May 30th 2:40 pm PDT

RMI Guide Mike Walter and team are standing on the summit of Mt. McKinley! Mike reported a strong team and and short-sleeve weather on top. The team will begin making their descent shortly and will send a dispatch when they are back at camp.

Way to go team!

On The Map

Totally awesome .....congratulations To RickyBobby and Ericquito!! We are so proud of you!  Can’t wait to tell you in person.  Perseverance pays off in a big way.  Looking forward to catching up at the lake.
XOXOXO your aunts and uncles in Chicago

Posted by: Maca-Mangan-Surpless on 5/31/2015 at 6:16 pm

Congratulations Solveig!  I can’t wait to see you back in Seattle.  Love you lots

Posted by: sigrid on 5/31/2015 at 12:12 pm

May 30, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Begin Their Summit Push

Friday, May 29th 7:00 pm PDT

We woke early to perfect weather, packed up camp and headed to 17K. We have a good forecast and hope to summit tomorrow. We’ll be in touch as our summit bid progresses.

RMI Guide Mike Walter

On The Map

You have been so disciplined and patient.  Delighted it has paid off. Go for it and good luck.

Art Muir

Posted by: Art Muir on 5/30/2015 at 9:22 am

May 28, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Plan to Move Up to High Camp Tomorrow

May 28, 2015 - 10:12 pm PT

The weather played out as forecasted today, with strong winds blowing plumes of snow off of Denali’s summit and West Buttress. We were happy to be down here at the 14,200’ camp where the winds were much more manageable. We enjoyed a leisurely brunch of bacon, eggs, and bagels while the winds howled outside. Much of the rest of the day was spent reading and napping in our tents.
The weather forecast looks good for us. We plan to rise early tomorrow (Friday) and make the strenuous climb to high camp at 17,200’. If all goes well, we’ll shoot for the summit on Saturday. This is by far the best weather forecast that we’ve had all trip and we plan to take full advantage of it. We’re well rested and acclimated, and eager to climb. We’ll let you know how it goes.

RMI Guide Mike Walter & team

Glad to hear that the weather gods are cooperating! We wish you all an excellent summit day and look forward to the photos and stories.
Eric - ¡ Vaya con dios hijo!

Posted by: Sally Maca on 5/30/2015 at 6:17 am

Go get ‘em team! Patience pays off with Mike and Solvieg at the helm! :) enjoy the ride and views. Cheers.

Posted by: Jeff on 5/29/2015 at 6:55 pm

May 28, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Remain at 14,000’

May 27, 2015 - 10:38 pm PT

We woke early this morning, ate, took down our tents and packed our backpacks. We even had our harnesses on. The weather was perfect. But after checking multiple weather resources, our decision was clear. Weather models were in agreement, forecasting gale force winds in excess of 65mph tomorrow at high camp. It would not have been prudent to risk going up high today and deal with potential tent-crushing winds tomorrow. So we unpacked and set up our tents anew.
Throughout the emotional swings of this morning, our team has remained resolute. Safety is our number one priority up here in the mountains, and we will try for our summit push after tomorrow’s winds abate. In fact, the forecast looks quite good for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We’re optimistic that we’ll have good shot to move up to high camp on Friday.
In the mean time today, we’re enjoying the best weather day of our whole trip. It’s sunny, calm, and warm here at 14,200’.
Pete Van Deventer’s expedition is up high on the ridge today, caching supplies for their stint at high camp (which will likely coincide with ours). Adam Knoff’s expedition rolled into camp today also, and they’re busy setting up their camp. It’s good to see a lot of friendly RMI climber faces here at camp.
We’ll keep you posted any news from our end.

RMI Guide Mike Walter

On The Map

May 27, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Wait at 14 Camp and Explore the Edge of the World

May 26, 2015 - 10:33 pm PT

We woke early again today, hoping for good weather to move up to high camp. But it was not to be. A large lenticular cloud, indicating strong winds, had formed over the top of Denali, extending down beyond high camp. Winds were howling up high until a little afternoon today, when the cloud dissipated for a couple hours and then reformed in the afternoon. The winds were too strong for us to safely move camp to 17,200’, so we rested again at 14,200’.
We took advantage of clear skies on the lower mountain to take a walk out to the “Edge of the World”, a point south of our camp that looks down sheer cliffs about 5,000’ down the the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The views from the Edge are surreal, and the scale is nearly incomprehensible.
We’re psyched to see what the weather brings tomorrow, and we’re ready to take advantage of good weather when it presents itself. We’ll keep you posted.

RMI Guide Mike Walter and team

On The Map

Glad to see you guys are doing well.  Hope to see these sites myself in the next couple of year or so.


Posted by: Kevin Stone on 5/28/2015 at 8:15 am

May 25, 2015

Five Day Summit Climb

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Still Hoping for Better Weather

May 25, 2015 - 7:16 pm PT

Hello Everyone!
This morning, hopeful to move to high camp, we awoke early and had breakfast and coffee in the chilly pre-solar hours, watching through dissipating clouds, as the wind whipped along the top of the West Buttress leaving streaks of sublimated snow in its wake.
And so resumed another day of reading, sport eating, and exploring the tangled and winding pathways between the walls of surrounding camps.
We are all crossing our fingers today is our final rest and acclimatization day here at fabulous 14 camp. We are looking forward to getting some exercise of the physical kind…we have been taxing the mental reserves nightly by developing a now customary team activity of Riddles over Dinner, made possible by the greatest boredom banishing App ever, Brain Twister by Will Shortz. Tonight we’ll be starting with puzzle number 47 if you’d like to follow along…but trust us, they’re exponentially harder at 14,200’!
We are packed, prepped, and looking forward to making our move tomorrow morning, if the weather cooperates.
Hopefully instead of practicing patience and unscrambling anagrams, we’ll be establishing camp at 17,200’ and enjoying the ever impressive views from higher on the mountain.
Thanks for following along!
RMI Guide Solveig Waterfall and the team

On The Map

Keeping my fingers crossed you all get a break in the weather and can continue to climb. Stay strong.

Posted by: Magda Higggins on 5/27/2015 at 7:46 pm

Solveig, Your latest blog was very interesting, where you shared how you all preserve your sanity while waiting on the weather at 14,000 ft. Good luck on catching good weather on your way to 17k.  with love, Joe & Dianne

Posted by: joe Griffith & Dianne Donovan on 5/26/2015 at 11:46 am

May 24, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team in a Holding Pattern at 14,200’

May 24, 2015 - 3:35 pm PT

Well, there is not much new to report today. We’re still waiting out the weather here at 14,200 ft on Denali. Last night was windy and snowy, with gusts up to 52 mph here in camp. There is lots of deep drifted snow around camp, so even just walking around is an exercise in trail breaking. The winds have let up this afternoon and it is still snowing lightly. Moderate snowfall is expected tonight and tomorrow, and with any luck it will let up by midweek.

We’re all safe and comfortable, waiting for the weather to improve. When (if) it does, we’ll have our work cut out for us; as a result of the new snow and wind loading, we’ll be faced with trail breaking and evaluating the avalanche hazard of the steeper slopes above us. In the mean time, we’re passing the time by reading books, chewing the fat, and the continual work of maintaining our camp’s condition throughout the storm.

We’ll keep you up to date with any changes in our current holding pattern.

RMI Guide Mike Walter and Team

On The Map

Chris and team…thinking of you with the winds and snow…what a challenge your having.  Hope the weather eases soon so you can get to high camp.  Stay safe…so proud of you!

Posted by: Dave and Melissa on 5/25/2015 at 8:31 am

Hang in there guys!!  I’ll be on the mountain next week, be super to see you guys on your way down from tagging the summit!

Posted by: Pete on 5/25/2015 at 5:32 am

May 23, 2015

Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Walter & Team Wait Out the Weather

May 23, 2015 - 2:37pm PST

We’re still comfortably camped in Genet Basin waiting for better weather in order to move up to high camp. Today it is snowing and windy here in camp, and you can hear the winds howling thousands of feet above us on the West Buttress. We’re still living quite comfortably in our tent compound at 14,200’. We’re hopeful that the weather pattern will change after this weekend and we will have a shot to move to high camp and try for the summit. We’ll check back tomorrow to keep everyone up to date.

RMI Guide Mike Walter and Team

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