There may come a time in your life when, oddly enough, climbing a mountain seems like the only sensible thing to do. The urge to climb a mountain may hit you anytime, but the question is: Should you give in? Well, any reasonably fit, reasonably ambulatory person can make it to the top of some magnificent peak.
Considering that mountaineering is a sport whose appeal is defined by its own difficulty, risks and physical inaccessibility, there are plenty of options for getting to the top of virtually any mountain that you set your sights on. For this Blog, I’ll focus on training for the big one – a 14,000 foot peak.
Alpine climbing requires a combo of cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. Of course, the best training for climbing a big mountain like Rainer, Whitney or even McKinley is to climb, but if you can’t, try an activity that gives the heart and lungs a continuous working-out while hammering the quads.
Cycling’s probably the best way to establish a fitness base for climbing. You can also ‘spin’ at your local gym. Shoot for a cadence in excess of 90 revolutions per minute, while pushing the heart rate into the 160 range for 20 minutes or more. Because cycling is primarily an upper-leg activity, so augment your riding with lower-leg exercise to strengthen your calves.
On cycling rest days, round out your conditioning with circuit training aimed at building up the abdomen, back, chest and shoulders. Alpine climbing may be primarily a lower-body sport, but the upper body plays an important role too.
When the weekends roll around, mix in a climb up your local hill or run some stairs (at the local high-school stadium). Then graduate to smaller mountains (8,000 to 10,000 feet) with a goal to reach the summit. If shooting for a 14k peak, make sure you bag a few summits over 10k before your try the big one. Just make sure you give your body some time to recover (1-2 weeks) between your last (10k) training summit and your hike up to the ‘14’.
Also, when you’ve chosen the mountain you wish to conquer, learn as much as possible about your intended route and the weather. In other words, do your home work.
Last but not least, ‘physical conditioning’ is no substitute for proper acclimatization. Pulmonary or cerebral edema is not an imminent threat on a two day climb to a 14k summit, but storming the mountain top and getting back in one day won’t exactly increase your chances of making the summit. Build acclimatization into your itinerary.