BIG EXPEDITIONS INVOLVE JETLAG, dirty bus rides, long treks, and a grueling schedule played out over many weeks. The air will be thin and you’ll be lugging packs, post-holing, and sleeping in cramped spaces. You’ll be too hot and too cold, dehydrated and hypoxic. Arriving at the mountain, just starting actual climbing demands a six-hour approach through steep talus and deep snow, lugging a monstrous load. How to prepare?
Climbing mountains is unique in the world of outdoor activities. It combines the athleticism of a triathlete and the dedication of a warrior in the most dangerous terrain on the planet. It’s an uphill pursuit demanding strong legs, cardiovascular fitness, and the technical ability to climb fast and safe over rock, ice, and snow. Mountaineering is more than a sport, transcending mere athletics into an unpredictable competition where “losing” might prove fatal. It’s a tall order to train for all the above, especially when you have to work full-time and have family and life responsibilities. However, dedicated, consisted training can get you where you want to be, no matter what else you have on your plate. Inclement weather, avalanches, collapsing seracs, and thin air can’t be controlled, but you can control how much preparation you do in the form of hard work and smart training.
- RUN – Running is an efficient training tool. Do at least 30 minutes per session, several times per week. Added length and frequency will be based on your training plan.
- HIKE – Hike long distances or uphill with a pack. Once again, the intensity and duration are up to you, or your trainer. If also honing skills by rock climbing, use long approaches to double up.
- CYCLING AND BACKCOUNTRY SKIING – Good activities to build into your program if you have access to the tools and the terrain. Indoor Options – Many standard fitness gyms offer Stairmasters, treadmills, and floor space to do intervals.
- Complete brief (30-second) sprints throughout a longer run.
- Do 30-minute high intensity rides on your bike.
- 20-minute treadmill sessions, alternating 30-second sprints with 30-second jogging intervals.
- Hike uphill with 30-second runs between 30-second slow-hike intervals. You can add a pack with weight to increase resistance.
- Weightlifting, like bench-press, military press, and bicep curls.
- Bodyweight exercise like push-ups, chin-ups, and one-leg pistol squats.
- Core training like crunches, sit-ups, roll-outs, and planks.
- Trail run on uneven terrain.
- Yoga—a good idea to do consistently.
- Balance exercises, can do weightlifting and core exercises on a balance ball, or attempt standing exercises on a single leg.
- Tai chi—as with yoga, a good thing to do consistently if preferred.
Gym – Work on basic strength for the genre of climbing you anticipate. Indoors is also a good place to practice rope skills, find clinics, and seek professional guidance.
Rock/Ice Climbing – If you live near crags, make climbing a regular part of your week. Do long approaches (or run/bike to the crag) to mimic longer days. Enchain routes for more technical climbing. Practice relevant rope systems.
Travel – Visit best-in-class venues to stay motivated and keep your skills fresh. A nice trip is a reward for your hard work, but keep on the program by interspersing the climbing with a few runs.
Mimic what you intend to climb. If your objective involves technical ice, then by all means put your time in winter climbing. If you plan to climb Trango Tower, then a trip up El Cap is a good idea. If you are looking at Everest, then become proficient in the snow and ascending fixed ropes.
- Luke Smithwick—Find an Online Training Program. “We live in an age where there are coaches that specialize in training people for mountaineering and uphill pursuits. Some offer pre-packaged plans where you work things through on the phone or in emails. It’s a great start for most people.”
- Garrett Madison—Hire a Trainer. “I work with trainers who help my climbers prepare for big peaks, and they do a great job of helping individuals get where they need to be to succeed and enjoy the experience. I think everyone will agree, it just feels awesome to be in great shape!”
- Luke Smithwick—Build Base Fitness. “If you don’t have it, get it. Your body, in order to make advances, needs to be prepared to handle a training load. For six to eight weeks or longer, depending on how active you are, create a base so your body can handle training.“
- Garrett Madison—Mirror the Activity. “I think the best training for mountaineering is to replicate the activity as closely as possible. If you can get outside on hills, hike stairs, or even get on the stair-mill at the gym with a weighted pack, I think that is good training for the mountains.”
- Luke Smithwick—Rest. “Resting is really important for recovery and staying healthy. Go into your expedition travel with plenty of rest, because you’ll be exposed to bacteria and pollution the minute you land in a place like Kathmandu.”
- Garrett Madison—Hike in the Urban World. “If you live in a city and can’t get outdoors, you can haul a book-filled pack up and down multiple flights of stairs. Also, do exercises that use several muscle groups and require coordinated movements, like squats, kettlebell swings, snatch-and-cleans, and Olympic barbells.”