Training for Mountaineering

Cascades Training Program

(Prepared by The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for fund-raising climbers)

Climb preparation
The recommendations contained in this climb preparation document have been prepared for your convenience and should not be construed as exhaustive in nature. For comprehensive climb preparation training, participants should consult with a recognized mountain climbing guide service or an experienced personal fitness trainer. Additionally, it is strongly recommended that each participant consult with a physician to ensure that no health conditions exist that could interfere with the physically rigorous demands of the climb and to ensure that each person is physically and mentally fit to participate in the climb.

The basics
If you’ve never climbed to the top of a glaciated mountain you will soon be introduced to a part of the world unlike any other. It is a place of sheer exhilaration as you realize what you have just accomplished. As the air thins, you’ll wonder how you can continue to put one foot in front of the other. Proper physical conditioning will keep you taking it one step at a time, as you journey your way through a successful and enjoyable climb.

Dedication is a key element in conditioning for your climb. To be prepared for your summit attempt, you must be committed to a personal training regimen. You must put together a work out schedule that will enable you to be in top form at the date of your respective climb. Keep in mind that what works for you may be different than what works for others.

There are two critical areas of preparation needed for a successful climb – physical conditioning and mental readiness. Working on the former will give you the latter. General rule of thumb is a minimum of 3 months of committed continual conditioning, and, of course, more is better. The idea is to be in a peak condition 2 weeks prior to your climb. How much conditioning is enough? That’s hard to say, but wouldn’t you like to give yourself and your teammates the best possible effort?

Physical Training & Conditioning

Building a foundation
Your foundation should be built through regular cardiovascular training and hiking. (Nothing prepares you better for hiking and climbing than hiking and climbing!) Also, try running, walking, swimming or biking, or any combination of these. The activity chosen should be sustained for a minimum of 45-60 minutes. Walking or running stairs with a pack is a great way to train because it’s highly effective. There are many easily accessible stairs in Seattle (see suggestion list). Keep in mind that this conditioning will make your body more efficient in using oxygen. The higher you climb towards the summit the lower the air pressure and less oxygen with each breath you’ll take. Also, get used to doing what most of climbing involves: carrying a weighted pack at altitudes above sea level. During your conditioning, you should train with a pack weekly.

Building Power & Strength
Using free weights or machines will build up your strength. When it comes to summit day, the stronger you are, the better your body will be able to handle the incredible physical demands it will face. One of these demands involves carrying a 50 to 65 pound pack. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No! With proper conditioning and preparation, hauling a pack of that weight will be quite manageable.

Building Endurance

To build endurance in the months leading up to your climb, you’ll want to slowly increase your pack load and length of training sessions. When you start out you might have a 5 lb. pack, but by the time you are 2 weeks from your climb date you should be able to ascend 3,500 ft. carrying 55-65 lbs in a 2-3 hour period. If you have 3 months to condition, you should plan to add 5 to 6 lbs. of weight to your pack each week. At this rate, you will hardly notice the increase in weight on your back as you become stronger and stronger. Keep in mind if you are training in a gym you can use the Stairmaster machine, a “Step-Mill” machine that is similar to an escalator or even better and elliptical trainer. If you train indoors, be sure to work up to training with a heavy pack & boots.

Rest days are important. Train hard but allow your body to recover. That includes several days of rest before your climb. Rest is an important aspect of mountain climbing. You want to be fully rested and ready for summit day. Rule of thumb is to work up to peak fitness by 2-3 weeks prior to your climb and then gradually reduce your physical effort and rest more. For example, begin conditioning 3 days a week/rest 4 days, and work up to 5 days of conditioning/2 days of rest (some say 2 days of conditioning and then 1 rest day, and repeat, is the best regimen).

Mental & Psychological Strength
Mental preparedness will develop on its own while you train. You will become more focused and start to get in a zone where you feel stronger than ever. This can be an euphoric and wonderful place, mentally. But don’t get too confident; keep training!

If you’ve ever wondered why athletes cry after a big race, you’ll understand at the end of your climb. You’re about to participate in a very emotionally rewarding event. All of your mental and physical training, combined with the emotional high of your accomplishment, will affect you greatly. Summiting a mountain is 50% physical and 50% mental. When your body gets tired up there, and it will, your brain kicks in and says ‘Come on, you can do this, don’t give up’!

There will be times during your climb when you will be out of your comfort zone. You may be too hot, cold, hungry, tired, thirsty, or exhausted. At moments like this you may need to ask yourself honestly, “Am I at my limit or am I simply uncomfortable?” If you are concerned, you can always turn to your guides for help and then take the necessary action.

You’ve got to have mental dedication. “I CAN do this,” is your mantra. Then put words into action. If you find yourself easing back on conditioning, give yourself a break for a day and then start the next day over and get back into it! Get rid of the guilt and go forward like you are just beginning.

This means simply knowing where you are in your progress and where you want and/or need to be for your success. Don’t sabotage yourself into thinking that you can make up lost time in training – you must keep at it to succeed.

You are an important part to the success of everyone on the climb. Offer encouragement and take part in the functions that will get everyone to the summit. There is no “i” in the word team!

Peak / Summit
This is it – your command performance! You’ve done all the preparation, now enjoy the scenery and your accomplishment!

Whether it’s a small step towards getting ready or taking the last steps to the summit, give yourself a pat on the back. For that matter do the same for anyone else who’s done what it takes. CONGRATULATIONS!

Helpful Tips & Resources

Basic Tips
* Call the local ranger station ahead of time for current conditions and/or recommendations or stop in on your way. Always check on avalanche conditions prior to attempting any hike with snow.
* Trail passes are required at most trailheads. You may purchase an annual trail pass for your car at ranger stations and many outdoor retailers. Don’t leave home without it!
* Carry extra water weight in your pack on the way up. If necessary, you can pour some out at the top to save your knees on the way down, though keep some for hydrating on the way down. Hydration is crucial.
* Hike with trekking poles to aid your balance while wearing a heavy pack.
* Hike with a buddy (or two) and stay together!
* Use the 100 Hikes in Washington books to find hikes that ‘peak’ your interest. (Most states have a good hiking guidebook)
* Stairs are a great way to build the muscles you will need to climb up and down the mountain and they’re right here in the city! (see suggestion list at end of this document)

Helpful Websites

* Check out (Washington Trail Association) for recent trail updates.
* Check out (National Weather Service) for current updates.
* Check out for snow and avalanche conditions.
* Check out for forest service issues (particularly permits).
* Check out for National Park Service.

TEN+ Essentials – A Must for All Your Conditioning Hikes!
1. Backpack (comfortable & well fitted)
2. Clothing & footwear (appropriate for the worst case weather forecast – at a minimum, always bring a waterproof jacket, hat and sweater, and boots or trail runners)
3. Compass
4. First aid kit
5. Flashlight or head lamp
6. Food (take things you enjoy & bring extra)
7. Matches / fire starter
8. Sunscreen & lip protection (especially for hiking on snow even on a cloudy day)
9. Sunglasses & hat
10. Topographic map of the area (Green Trails or USGS)
11. Water (carried in plastic bottles or bladders)
12. Helpful extras: Cell phone or two-way radio for emergencies, emergency blanket or small tent, hand-warmers

Although the list above is by no means all encompassing, it does try to convey a sense of preparedness. It is advisable to hike with a buddy and stay together. If you do choose to hike alone, always leave a plan with someone including where you are going and when you expect to return home. Weather changes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, always be prepared for the worst.

Clothing & Gear
Extra layers, jackets or waterproof shells are key to keeping the body warm, protected and comfortable. Never wear clothes that don’t ‘wick’, like jeans or sneakers, rather wear a synthetic material such as Capilene or ‘polypro’. This is designed to wick away moisture while maintaining your body’s heat. Cotton t-shirts and the like retain moisture and can quickly bring the body’s core temperature down. In the wrong weather, such as cold temps and rain, this can lead to hypothermia. Never rely on other hikers to have the 10+ essentials for you; make every attempt to be self-sufficient.

Keeping a change of clothes in your car is a great idea. This way you can get out of your damp hiking clothes into some dry, comfortable clothing before the drive home.

Gear Tips
* Don’t wait until the last minute to get your gear – the gear you need to buy will come in handy on the training hikes.
* If you do not own plastic boots, rent the plastic boots for a challenging hike to find out if they are going to work for you over a long day. Keep in mind that plastic boots should be laced up loosely, in order to prevent shin bang. (Happy feet make for a more pleasant climbing experience!)
* Borrowing gear is also a great way to save money. Make sure the gear fits and take it with you to your gear check.
* You must have everything listed on the recommended gear list at your scheduled gear check. This is a great opportunity to pack everything into your pack and eliminate unnecessary items. The guides will help streamline your pack and may recommend items you are missing.
* If you rent crampons, make sure they fit onto your plastic boots. And, make sure your gators fit over your plastic boots before the gear check.
* Last but not least, be on time for the gear check! The whole group must be there before they start.