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Entries By pepper dee

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:


PM-water jug hill repeats

PM-circuit training/lift

PM-long run (90 min+)




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!

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Pack Up and Leave for the Dusty Trail

Hi folks,

Well, it’s time to say goodbye to Aconcagua Base Camp and hit the dusty trail back to Las Lenas. Given the grim outlook on this mountain for the next week, the team is rather excited to be able to get back home to you all just a little bit sooner. We’re hoping that the promise of huge slabs of steak cooked over an open fire will motivate us along the 18 or so miles we have ahead of us today. Hopefully we can stay hydrated and blister free.

You used to call us on our sat phone,

RMI Guides Pepper Dee and JJ Justman

Great to meet you and have some fun with your team! 

Cheers!  Fred

Posted by: Fred Doar on 1/17/2016 at 4:07 pm

Hi Eric Leger & ACONCAGUA Team:  It was a nice experience following along on your journey through the blog.  Thank you so much. You have so much to be proud of in all that you were able to experience in your mind/body/spirit.  Wishing you all safe travels home. 

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” -Edmund Hillary



Posted by: millie Chase on 1/13/2016 at 7:07 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team at Base Camp

Hello folks, Team 3 is resting and doing well back at base camp on Aconcagua. There are a lot of teams that have retreated from the upper mountain and have departed base camp. Last night Pepper and one of our team members, Brian, played guitar and sang for the entire base camp and yes, they received a standing ovation. 

As for our team, we are not quite ready to throw in the towel but I have to be honest, the weather and the forecast is looking horrible with extremely high winds continuing for several days. We will keep you posted to our progress. As for now, the team is really happy not having to hold tents up from the inside and actually enjoying visiting the bathrooms.

RMI Guides JJ Justman and Pepper Dee

Bonjour Éric,

Un petit message qui j’espère t’arrivera où que tu sois. Je suis sûr que tu réussis à atteindre tes objectifs. Et pour une fois, oublie ce vieux dicton qui dit : “Quand tu as atteint le sommet de la montagne, continue de grimper”.  On pense à toi, on t’aime et n’hésite pas si tu as le moindre problème pour redescendre à m’appeler : je ferai le max !  À tantôt,  Phil

Posted by: Phil on 1/11/2016 at 7:36 am

Hey Brad! We sure hope the weather turns enough for you to summit. We can’t wait to hear all about your trip and hope it will include a summit. If not, it sure will be great memories for yall, just stay safe.  As big as that mountain is, just know that you are loved even more, way more!! We think about you every day. We love and miss you! Love Mimi and Dad XO

Posted by: Mimi Rearden on 1/11/2016 at 7:18 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Hunker Down in Wind and Snow at Camp 1

Well, when life gives you 50 mph wind gusts and incidental snow storms, you hole up in your tent, drink tea, and eat ramen. In other words, the team is getting a taste of expedition living at its finest up here at Aconcagua Camp 1. The good news is, all team members are doing well, battling the elements through stoic tent maintenance, self care, and once in a while poking their heads outside to catch a glimpse of the spindrift whipping down the neighboring slopes. Send us all the positive weather vibes you can!

Blessings on blessings from the boys on the hill,

RMI Guides Pepper Dee and JJ Justman

On The Map

Brad & Co… Still hoping for better conditions for you guys!  Hang tough and I’m sure you guys will get to push up and summit soon!  Until then, rest up and keep your head down! Good Luck!

Still following along daily..

Posted by: J Davis on 1/9/2016 at 9:13 pm

Brad & Brian:

Hang in there…hope the weather is better soon and you get to the summit.  Miss you and will be glad when you are safely back home…stay warm.

Posted by: Bobbi Birt on 1/8/2016 at 2:44 pm

Aconcagua: Justman and Team Settle in at Camp One

Hey Everyone,

This is JJ Justman and Pepper Dee and Team 3 Aconcagua. We had one heck of a day you can probably hear the wind here. We fought the battle and we got up here to Camp One at 16,500 feet. Pretty adverse conditions, but the team just did a fantastic job! Actually Pepper and I are really impressed with these guys, none of them hired any porters and when we got to camp they set up the tents themselves. They’re anchoring them out right now and getting moved, it’s been a long day. I wanted to write a dispatch to let you know how great the team is doing, but we’re running a little bit behind schedule. We’ve got some stoves to get going and get some snow melt into water to get re-hydrated and make sure these folks are doing well. Everyone’s doing great! Thanks for Following along, Tough day to get up here at Camp One, but everyone safe and sound.  As usual we’re still having fun and the views are only getting better!  We’re probably going to have a couple of lazy days here. The forecast is calling for a quite a bit of wind for the next several days, so we’re not in a huge rush to go running up hill. It is nice to get a little higher and improve on our acclimatization.

Again, thanks for following along and we’ll touch base soon.

JJ Justman and Pepper Dee Checking in from Camp One on Aconcagua.

Brian and Brad: I hate to hear that the weather isn’t cooperating…y’all will have to make the most of it - swapping stories while you’re holed up in the tents.

Posted by: Johnny on 1/7/2016 at 10:33 am

Congratulations, everyone!!!  Please continue to hydrate and to err on the side of caution.
God bless every single one of you.  Mama Kucik

Posted by: Karen Kucik on 1/7/2016 at 6:41 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Relax at Base Camp

Wind, wind, wind! Because the forecast is calling for foul weather the team has decided to spend one more day at Base Camp. After all, after a great day up to 16,400 feet we will only get stronger down low. So, the team is relaxing, eating pizzas, taking showers and enjoying another day in base.

Everyone here wants to say hello to their friends and families. Keep your fingers crossed for calmer winds. We are hoping to move up to Camp 1 tomorrow.

RMI Guides JJ Justman and Pepper Dee

On The Map

Brian—Worried about you—you are my favorite Bulldog and I am counting on you to kick butt
with Mother Nature!

Posted by: Dan McIntyre on 1/8/2016 at 7:07 pm

JJ—you da man—climb strong and safe!


Posted by: randy c on 1/6/2016 at 10:26 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Carry to Camp 1

Today was a big day for our Aconcagua Team! After loading up our packs with food and supplies for the upper mountain, we set off above Base Camp into the penitente maze separating Base Camp from Camp 1. For those of you in need of a mountaineering glossary, penitentes are chunks of hardened snow molded by the elements into spires, ranging from shin high to-under some conditions-over head high. Negotiating the penitentes, combined with the wind and snow the team encountered at Camp 1, made for a challenging but successful carry day. Spirits are high as we enjoy a potato hash back at Base Camp.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,

RMI Guides Pepper Dee and JJ Justman

On The Map

Hey Dad (Mike)!! So glad to read that you all are having a great trek! Cheering you on from VA.

Devon & the kiddos

Posted by: Devon on 1/4/2016 at 8:37 pm

Yum, potato hash! TJ is jealous. The boys are all caught up on your progress, babe, and we are cheering you on from afar.

FYI: We managed to frontline two kitties (with Townsend’s help). One has evaded us; can you guess who?!

Love you and miss you, Terry/Daddy.

Posted by: Amanda, TJ and Townsend on 1/4/2016 at 5:54 pm

Aconcagua: Justman & Team R&R Time after Acclimating Hike

First, this dispatch is brought to you by Starbucks…I sit here drinking an Italian roast as I write this. Second, this team is rocking and rolling! Today we took a well-deserved day of rest at Aconcagua Base Camp; however, everyone had a great first night at altitude.

The team woke up to a fresh egg veggie scramble. We went to work after breakfast and began organizing food and gear for our carry to Camp 1.  We went for an acclimatization hike and explored the surrounding area. Everyone is doing great and despite the strong winds, we are having a lot of fun.

Stay tuned for more Aconcagua action and as usual… Go Green Bay!!

RMI Guides JJ Justman and Pepper Dee

On The Map

Who is the Packer fan?  I love my Green Bay Packers but they let the Vikings beat them.  Oh well, on to Washington.  Good luck to all,  especially Terry!  Thinking about you.  Judi

Posted by: Judi Harper on 1/6/2016 at 2:27 pm

Brad and Brian:

Hope you guys are having fun.  Be safe.  Looking forward to having you home!  Happy Trails!

Posted by: Bobbi Birt on 1/5/2016 at 4:59 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Reach Base Camp

Hola friends and family! This is Pepper Dee writing along with JJ Justman from Aconcagua Base Camp. Today was a bit of an action packed outing. We started the day off strong with a mule ride across the Vacas River at dawn to reach the base of the Relinchos Valley (probably the closest the team will ever get to starring in a spaghetti western), and then trekked up the valley all day until we reached Base Camp early this afternoon. Everyone is doing great and is adjusting well to life at just under 14,000 feet. It’s very windy around basecamp, and we’re hoping the gusts start to simmer down during our rest day tomorrow. Hugs from the team! We’ll be in touch tomorrow.

RMI Guides Pepper Dee and JJ Justman

On The Map

The stir-man is pulling for y’all! Crush it!!

Posted by: Johnny on 1/4/2016 at 7:19 am

Hope you are having a great day and get some rest!  We enjoyed spending time yesterday with
Becky, Halle, Brody and Jake. We ate at Chiles, one of our favorite places. Everyone is doing great.
We miss you, stay safe. Dad took pictures of the lake and it is something to see.

Posted by: Mom and Dad on 1/3/2016 at 9:32 am

Aconcagua: Justman & Team Send New Year Greetings from Casa de Piedra

Hey everyone, this is JJ Justman and Pepper Dee with our Aconcagua team. We had a great New Year Day trekking to Casa de Piedra.  It was beautiful sunny day it was very windy towards the end, but the winds starting to calm down. Pepper and I are chopping vegetables we are throwing the chicken on the grill, and we’re going to have another great evening here under the Andean sky. Everyone’s doing great the entire team wants to say hello to their friends and family back at home and they told me to just give a general shot out for the Happy New Year to everyone. Things are going great. Stay tuned because we are going to end this trek as we move into base camp tomorrow. So stay tuned and we will talk to you tomorrow. Good bye from Casa de Piedra.

RMI Guide JJ Justman

RMI Guide JJ Justman checks in from Casa de Piedra en route to Aconcagua Base Camp.

On The Map

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