The tallest mountain in the Lower 48s — that was our goal. The peak, Mt. Whitney in California, stood 14,505 feet in the sky, a physical challenge and a true wilderness feat with ice, snow, falling rock and thin mountain air standing between my team and the top.
But we were up to the challenge. We were set our sights on making the peak. It’d been a trip months in the making, with planning, dreaming, practicing rope-work and, of course, whipping our bodies into shape.
Whitney was my first big peak. Since the ascent 10 years ago, I’ve kicked steps up Mt. Rainier, climbed volcanoes in Iceland and summited a Himalayan mountain above 18,000 feet.
And I’ve trained almost entirely from my home in the flatlands of Minnesota, with running, biking, hiking and some weight lifting thrown into the mix. Here’s how I get ready before packing my gear up and setting off for my summit climbs. Any of these tips can be worked into a weekly Scout meeting as a part of program preparing for a mountain summit attempt.
Get aerobic. Run, bike, cross-country ski or otherwise get your heart rate up on a regular basis. A strong cardiovascular system is requisite for any kind of alpine exertion. I prefer running over all activities — it’s the quickest, most efficient method for me to get the blood pumping and the lungs working to build aerobic strength.
Get strong. Rock climbing or weight lifting are guaranteed routes toward the strong body you’ll need to climb peaks. I supplement my running routine with a daily weights regimen, including kettlebells. In all, the circuit eats up less than 20 minutes of my day, but it keeps me strong. Within a month of starting I saw muscles on my arms and core I did not know existed before.
Gear up. Mountaineering requires loads of gear. Start with the basics — boots and a backpack — and hit the trail. Get used to the pack weight on your shoulders and the feel of solid, heavy footwear necessary in the game. Break in the boots and learn to love your backpack like it’s a part of your anatomy. (Find a full list of mountaineering gear recommended by Stephen Regenold.)
Get technical. Beyond bodily strength, any mountaineer needs to learn the literal ropes of the game. Rock climbing, even in a gym, will teach bedrock skills like basic knots, tying-in, how to wear a harness and belay technique. Get outdoors, clip carabiners, manage ropes and learn the intricacies of rock, ice and snow from a mentor or a guide.
Get tough. High winds and cold temps are par for any mountaineering route. Temper your body by getting outdoors in the worst of it, the wetter, colder, the windier, the better. The body adjusts in just a few outings to colder temps, and once on a mountain you’ll be happy you toughed it out to get prepared back home.
Eat right. Food is your energy out there, and mountains require a lot of fuel. I take in 200 calories an hour or more on any big climb. Practice eating dense, high-calorie foods and things like energy gels and bars. Know what agrees with your stomach before you’re trying to choke down a bar or bag of granola on summit day.
Drink! Hydration is easier to fumble during cold pursuits. But water is crucial on a mountain, and you must learn to manage your H20 intake no matter the temp outside. Keep your water in an insulated container so it does not freeze, and also consider a drink mix to add electrolytes to the water you drink on a climb. Test out these drink mixes and methods before your trip, so that you know they agree with your stomach.
Set your mind. Beyond the physical prep, get your head in the right place before a climb. Be safe, be ready, but most of all get psyched! There are few activities on Earth as exhilarating as climbing a high peak. Keep positive and think ahead to prepare for any jitters or doubts you could encounter up high. On summit day you might need the emotional boost and extra mental fortitude to make it to the top!
FIND MORE OF STEPHEN REGENOLD’S GEAR REVIEWS AT SCOUTINGMAGAZINE.ORG/GREATGEAR