As summer approaches, so does the opportunity for my brother and I to get together and go on somewhat of a mini-adventure doing some backpacking.
Last year we successfully made summit at Mt Whitney (14,505ft – tallest mountain in the contiguous United States) and this year, we have our sights set on Mt. Elbert (14, 440 ft – 2nd tallest in the contiguous United States behind Mt. Whitney) and we are blessed to have our Dad joining us!
So as I start to plan and research routes, logistics, etc for Mt. Elbert, I am reminded of our trip last year and just how much fun it was, but also how challenging it was. If you look at the picture above, you see my finger pointing to the summit in the background and can get somewhat of an idea of just how challenging of a climb that was. The total trip was over 22 miles and over 12,000 feet of elevation gain/lost.
Often, I search message boards and previous trip reports to see what worked and didn’t work for people as they attempted these types of climbs. As I have been searching and gathering information on Mt. Elbert and communicating with those that have done it, I keep coming across certain posts on various forums where people are asking advice on training tips for these types of strenuous mountain climbs. Even before climbing Mt. Whitney, I really had no idea what to expect in terms of conditioning, but I’ll share with you what worked for me.
1. Hike In Elevation With Weight
First of all, I think the best way to train for hiking/climbing with weight is…to hike and climb with weight.
In my opinion, there is nothing better that you can do than to recreate the activity that you are going to be facing. I guess the problem with that is that not everyone has mountains in their backyard like we do here in California with the Sierras. Even if you do have places with elevation, sometimes its just not practical to train there. When you juggle jobs, kids, soccer practices, commute time to and from, etc…you just don’t always have the time to escape for a day or two a week. I know I sure don’t!
I did have the opportunity to go on a couple long hikes with about 2000-3000 feet worth of climbing while stuffing my pack with about 30lbs before my Mt. Whitney climb. These training hikes gave me a big boost of confidence and despite not being close to the actual distance/elevation that I would eventually face…they sure helped!
Once again, though, most people don’t have this opportunity especially if you live somewhere with hardly any elevation or lead a busy life where it is nearly impossible to get away.
So if you’re thinking about going after a 14er somewhere, if possible, the best way to train for climbing mountains first of all, is…climbing mountains.
2. Trail running
The second thing I did was lots of trail running. This wasn’t something I did specifically for the Mt. Whitney climb, but that is just one of my hobbies that I do all year long, but I know it helped.
With trail running, you get the opportunity to get familiar with running/walking on trail. There is usually a fair degree of elevation changes that occur and you get those accessory and stability muscles that aid in balance on uneven terrain built up. Once again, this isn’t always an option.
When I lived in KY, I never ran trails…only roads. Not that there isn’t any, just wasn’t a big thing there at the time and the distance of my commute to and from the closest decent trails made them not practical. Now that I live California, I never run roads…only trails, they’re everywhere!
Also, I did a round of P90X in the spring leading up to our hike. P90X is convenient, it’s quick to do each day, I don’t have to commute to a gym or pay gym fees, personal trainer, etc. Most importantly, IT WORKS! It’s a top notch program that will work every part of your body like no tomorrow especially your core.
And there’s no excuses with it. It has modifications for almost all fitness types. You can do it before work, you can do it after work, while your kids are napping, on the road, in a hotel, whenever, and all in privacy if you want. Also, it will help you drop a lot of weight which will make climbing that much easier.
I lost around 25lbs the first time I went through the program. My pack weight on the Whitney trip alone was 25lbs! I can’t imagine if I had to carry what is essentially 50 extra lbs (Pack + ME) of weight up that mountain! Many people will say use a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, etc., but the problem really with those is, you just don’t have anyone pushing you like you need to be pushed, like you do with P90X. It’s essentially like having a personal trainer at your house. Get more info on P90X HERE if that is something you are interested in, it really made a BIG difference for me. You can’t always go trail run, you can’t always go hiking, but you really can get busy with an at home program like P90X or Insanity everyday if you wanted instead of just sitting on the couch thinking about how to get in shape for that BIG climb coming up!
So What Am I Doing This Year?
The funny thing about the Asylum is that there are specific exercises that simulate and are specific to mountain climbing. The “mountain climbing ” sequence in the Game Day workout is a BEAST and I have had excellent results so far with both programs. Overall, my weight is down, I am MUCH stronger, more flexible, and probably close to the best shape (cardio and strength wise) I have ever been in, so I’m excited about the trip!
What about you? Are you training for something right now? What works for you? Let me know!
If you need any help or advice with your next big climb, weight loss, or overall fitness in general…contact me!