I’ve been geeking out on The Rock Climber’s Manual and experimenting with the training concepts within with my crew here in Bend (thx Rod!!!). It’s the first time I have ever focused on actually training for rock climbing (as opposed to my core passion – mountaineering – a very different discipline), and the concepts outlined in this book are very effective. After indoor and outdoor rock climbing recreationally on and off for years, I thought I simply wasn’t the best rock climber. I’m short, heavy set for a climber, and not super strong in my hands and arms. However, I have been seeing tangible results for the first time and skipping grades and feeling great. This experience has reminded me of the importance of training.
I have seen many friends and clients struggle on their dream trips or mountains, and they think I am simply “amazing” for the things I have accomplished in the mountains, but the reality is that I have simply learned the importance of planning and training. This recent experience has just reminded me just how effective training can be to help us improve at something we’re not great at, to take us to the next level in our goals, or even just set a good foundation to get started. Read on…
SET YOUR BIG GOAL
What is YOUR dream goal, your bucket list item? I am personally uninspired unless I am working toward a big goal. I have actually felt this way for several years now until I recently got the opportunity to scout the Rwenzoris trek of Uganda for Call of the Wild in March. The Rwenzoris trek has three of Africa’s highest peaks along the way, so I’m not going to miss the chance to climb them along the way! This gets me jazzed and inspired to get out of bed each day to dream, train, and organize.
An old high school friend of mine, we’ll call him Eddie, is also inspired by a huge goal – to climb Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina. Now, Eddie is not a climber, not a backpacker, and is not even hiking regularly. Do you think it’s wise for him to aim to climb Aconcagua within a year?
I do, as long as he’s motivated, plans, and executes his plan.
It does no one any good to dream big but fail to take the next basic step – to lay out a solid plan to get ready and fulfill that dream.
“A goal without a plan is a pipe dream.” -Mike & Mark Anderson in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual
Part of planning is determining what your strengths and weaknesses are in face of your dream goal. In Eddie’s case, Aconcagua is a tough but non-technical mountain. It requires great stamina to hike for nearly 3 weeks for 5-10 hours a day typically with a heavy pack, up to 60# to an ultimate altitude nearly 23k ft.
What are Eddie’s strengths? He’s highly motivated. This is incredibly important and powerful and can make up for a lot. I was in the same boat when I first bit by the mountaineering bug.
What are Eddie’s weaknesses? He currently lacks the experience, equipment, and fitness required for a mountain like Aconcagua. He need to fully embrace these weakness and work slowly and methodically on each one of them.
Normally, the greatest benefits will come from focusing on weaknesses. For example, I naturally have great endurance, above average pain threshold, proven ability to acclimatize, and keen body awareness, but I have a lower than average pack-carrying capacity as a very small woman. Thus, I focus much of my training efforts on slowly increasing my pack weight in a diligent, disciplined training program so that I can carry the food and equipment required for my objective.
In Eddie’s case, he needs to work on all of this weaknesses as he is quite unproven in this arena. As he is training, strengths and weaknesses will likely make themselves more apparent and he can alter his training appropriately.
SET INTERMEDIATE GOALS
A big goal like climbing Aconcagua in 12 months can be incredibly intimidating. Where do you even begin? Breaking the large goal into smaller intermediate goals really helps the large goal feel more manageable. Eddie will have to think about what skills and fitness is required to climb Aconcagua and break them out.
Intermediate goals for Aconcagua include the following:
- Get in great hiking shape
- Refresh backpacking skills and get in great backpacking shape
- Experience climbing over 15,000ft
- Organize logistics for Aconcagua expedition
- Acquire basic snow climbing skills
Obviously, having a very solid hiking base is key before throwing a potentially demoralizing pack on your back and trying to crank out the miles. Most of Aconcagua is not snow covered, so ability to be comfortable setting up and managing camp in a typical backpacking style is key. Working up to carrying a heavy pack is a key component of backpacking, and is part of the challenge of Aconcagua in particular. Another unique challenge of Aconcagua is the extreme altitude of nearly $23k feet – how does one train and prepare for that? The logistics can be intimidating enough and should be broken out separately. Snow climbing skills are important for summit day when you are likely to be climbing on snow. While these skills are a only required for a small portion of the overall climb, they come at a critical time when you are the most tired, at the highest altitude and have the highest propensity for falling and needing these skills.
SET SHORT-TERM GOALS
Each intermediate goal is then broken out into short-term goals which can more easily be turned into calendar deadline entries and to do lists. As an example for Aconcagua, we can breakdown sample short-term goals for step #3 – getting the backpacking skills and fitness ready for the demands of many consecutive days of carrying a heavy pack and setting up/breaking down camp over and over.
Short-Term Goals for achieving intermediate goal #3
- Sign up for a course like the Sierra Club’s Backpacking Training Series offered in the Bay Area or do some guided backpacking trips to get tips from experts
- Procure backpacking equipment. Train with it to test it and gain intimate familiarity.
- After building a solid day hiking volume, begin hiking with a weighted backpack starting at 15# and adding 3# each week. Working backwards to carry a 60# pack, you must start a minimum of 15 weeks in advance and not miss any weeks. For those without previous experience, it would be wise to start even 6 months in advance to be more gentle on your body. Make your hikes mimic the actual event as much as possible (distance, gain, altitude). As you get closer to the trip, add in a mid-week pack workout with 50-75% of your current training pack weight. This helps keep your body used to carrying weight without stressing it too much and gives you time to recover from your tough weekend hikes.
- Plan several backpacking trips of increasing difficulty throughout the year, including ones in the U.S. above 14k ft.
- Evaluate progress and adjust training accordingly.
RECORD YOUR RESULTS
Recording your results serves several purposes by:
- Forcing you to plan. Laying out your training program in written form (spreadsheet, journal, etc) makes you think about, plan, and schedule your training instead of leaving it to chance.
- Providing accountability – Did you do what was planned? Why or why not? You can see it in black and white that you are doing what you said you set out to do.
- Providing a feedback loop – Are you on track or progressing too slowly? Do you need to change your program? How are you feeling mentally and physically?
- Serving as a motivator – It feels sooooo good when you are doing what you said you would do, see results, feel good and start getting closer to your dream.
In the future, you can look back at your old records and learn from your mistakes and successes to train even more efficiently for new goals.
Planning makes perfect. You still need to have a solid plan, execute it, and evaluate it’s effectiveness…but you are setting yourself up for failure if you move toward an ambitious dream without making an effort to create a well-laid plan.
Please share with me what your big dream is for 2015 and how you are going to go about achieving it!
The Outdoor Athlete by Courtenay and Doug Schurman – great for hikers, trekkers, and backpackers
The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Mike & Mark Anderson – excellent for serious rock climbers
Training for the New Alpinism – A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House – best for well rounded alpinists