Planning Makes Perfect

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.

Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina

Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina

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

SELF-EVALUATION
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.

Carry a pack nearly half my body weight is tough to say the least

Carry a pack nearly half my body weight is tough to say the least

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:

  1. Get in great hiking shape
  2. Refresh backpacking skills and get in great backpacking shape
  3. Experience climbing over 15,000ft
  4. Organize logistics for Aconcagua expedition
  5. Acquire basic snow climbing skills
I have hiked Mt Diablo over 40 times over the years to prepare for different objectives

I hiked Mt Diablo over 40 times over the years to prepare for different objectives

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

  1. 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
  2. Procure backpacking equipment. Train with it to test it and gain intimate familiarity.
  3. 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.
  4. Plan several backpacking trips of increasing difficulty throughout the year, including ones in the U.S. above 14k ft.
  5. 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!

Additional resources:

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

Best Training Hikes in the Bay Area

Training for backpacking and mountaineering has several components – cardiovascular (both endurance and interval to raise anaerobic threshold), strength training, and “sport specific.”

Sport specific refers trying to mimic the activity as best possible.  For example, in mountaineering, we typically carry heavy packs up and down steep slopes over several days for anywhere from 4 to 10 hours on average.  It’s tough to mimic those conditions in the gym, but we can do so out on the trails.

Hiking Montara Mtn gives training at sea level new meaning

Beautiful single track

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would recommend hiking with the pack you will actually carry in the mountains.  This achieves several objectives – gets you more familiar with your gear, gives you a chance to see if there are any issues with the fit (i.e., waist belt digs into your hips), and best simulates the actual conditions of your climb.

Water is the best way to weight your pack.  It’s easy to calculate (1 gallon is 8.8# and 1 liter is 2.2#), it’s plentiful and can be convenient on really hot days, and you can pour it out if you need to move faster or your knees are bothering you on the downhill.

A girlfriend of mine once brought 10# boxes of trash compactor bags in her pack, but when we started to run out of daylight and needed to move faster, she couldn’t do anything with those boxes. If she had water, she could have poured it out to lighten her load.

One disadvantage of using water is that it is more dense than the actual gear with which you will fill your pack.  This makes the center of gravity feel much lower than it will be on the actual climb.

Hiking the fire roads on Diablo

Company at the summit of Olympia Peak

One standard training principle is to carry the water up to the top of your hike, pour it out, and then descend with a lighter pack to save your knees and legs.  I never did this because I find the downhill to be quite challenging.  Its also the most dangerous part of most climbs – you have gravity pulling you downward, a false step is more likely to result in a fall, and you are the most tired when descending.  I always found it really valuable to train for the descent as well as the ascent.

When I first started climbing, I took the time to research all the major steep day hikes in the Bay Area.  I calculated the feet gain per mile to figure out which hikes would give me the best bang for my buck.  Mt Diablo tops them all for being a butt kicker that really simulates the strain you’ll experience on a mountain.  Mission Peak as also great for its relentless slope and was a great hike to do when I was more pressed for time.  Others are good for variety, but I didn’t feel were as beneficial as a staple.

Hike Miles Altitude Gain Feet/Mile Comments
Mission Peak – Main Trail 6.0 2100 350 Can be very hot in summer, but bring layers and liner gloves as temp can really drop once you gain the ridge near top
Mt Diablo North Peak Loop fm Regency Gate 9.9 3100  313 Real butt kicker –  when I’m really serious, I would do this one EVERY weekend. Bring a map and lots of water, can be VERY hot in summer.
Mt Diablo – 4 peaks of Diablo 16 4700 293 Start in Mitchell Canyon and summit Eagle Peak, main summit, North Peak, and Olympia Peak. Takes ~7.5 hrs.
Del Valle to Sunol 19.5 5600 287 Long long hike that requires a car shuttle. I’ve done this twice in about 8.5 hrs
Mt Tam – Mtn Home Inn TH  6.5 1500 250 Beautiful hike. Good for variety, but not nearly as hard as top two.
Montara Mountain 8 1800 225 Start in Mitchell Canyon and summit Eagle Peak, main summit, North Peak, and Olympia Peak. Takes ~7.5 hrs.
Windy Hill – Portola Valley Loop  7.2  1400 195 This has a long flat start and the grade is not consistent, but this is a good alternative for variety.
Wunderlich Skyline Loop 10.0 1800  180 Wooded and cooler in summer.  Well-marked trails.  Gentle grade but continuous slope.  Good for endurance but not very grueling.

All distances and altitude gains are based on publicly available info, my own recollection and use of an altitude watch, or maps.  If you redo any of these maps with your own GPS, feel free to send me your stats so I can improve the accuracy of this chart.

Please feel free to shoot me any questions or share any other local hike gems you may have.  Finally, I’ll put in a plug for my friends at BodyResults.  Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Courtney Schurman who has been writing my training programs for the last decade for big objectives.  Call of the Wild clients get special discounts at www.bodyresults.com/wild.

Hope this helps your progress toward your backpacking and climbing dreams!

The gang on a windy day on top of Mission Peak

Friendly tarantula on Mt Diablo in Oct