Friday, August 11, 2017

Training for Rainier

The season is not over, but the end is approaching fast. As I am sure you've read from previous blog posts, the Emmons/Winthrop and DC are much more challenging than they were earlier in the season, with massive crevasses opening wider and the bridges getting thinner. Bummed that you didn't make it to Rainier this summer? Life just got in the way, but next summer is the one?

Here's some tips to help set you up for success for next summer.

1. Physical training. It's rather obvious it's not just a walk in the park going up Rainier, but you would be amazed at how many come up ill prepared for 10,000 ft of vertical gain with a heavy pack. Running is good for your cardio, but that alone doesn't cut it. Mountain/road biking, hiking with a heavy pack, and getting up to altitude to exercise are excellent training. Stefan, a Climbing Ranger at Rainier for many years, swears by skate skiing. He says it made those early season hikes to Muir and Schurman so much easier than running every did. A less adventurous training method, but time efficient, would be the occasional squat routine with weights to strengthen your legs and core.
If you live in smaller mountain ranges like the Appalachians, link a couple peaks up in a day. If there's barely a foothill near you, get on that stair master (or skate skis) or better yet, tell your boss you need some more vacation time to travel to other mountain ranges to train. Get in some 10 to 12 hour days climbing, hiking, biking or skiing. Think longer slower workouts, not intense short ones.

2. Practice your rope skills. You would be amazed how much you can forget in a winter, let alone a couple of years without using them. They are perishable skills and it's good to be dialed before you come up the mountain.  Make sure your whole team knows these skills.  It might be the person with the least experience who needs to save you. By all means when you come, have a layover day to practice the skills with your team while you acclimatize, but you shouldn't need to completely learn them from scratch while you are up there. The gear you carry does you no good if you don't know how to use it.

3. Get out in the cold and snow. Dial your layering systems, test your equipment. It's a red flag when you see someone taking their gear out of the packaging at the high camps. Practice walking in varying conditions/slopes of snow and ice with crampons on. Lots of injuries are caused by people with little experience walking with crampons. Practice navigating on snow in white-outs in the alpine (using some sort of GPS system).

4. Take a Wilderness First Aid/Responder course. If you haven't already taken a first aid course, you definitely should jump on board if you want to know how to care for yourself or peers in the wilderness. Good risk management is first and foremost, but sometimes things happen despite your best preparations and decision making-you need to be ready to deal when the hospital is hours away.  Self-rescue is the best form of rescue.

5. Take an avalanche awareness course like an AIARE 1. Especially if you are looking to travel to Rainier early season (March, April, May, and even June), you need to be able to assess the snow stability (or lack there of) yourself. Avalanches are real up there. Know how to rescue your partners if they get buried.  There's no avalanche forecast for the top zones of Mount Rainier.

6. Give yourself and your team more than two days to summit. Weather can be unreliable in the PNW. Don't force yourself to try and summit when the conditions aren't right, just because you have to catch a flight.

These are tips that will help make your attempt at the summit of Rainier a successful, safe, and enjoyable one, that wasn't just a suffer-fest where you simply ticked something off your bucket list.