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How to be a better climber

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How to be a better climber

Postby bvbellomo » Fri Feb 04, 2011 6:33 pm

I just got back from a trip to Ecuador. While what I saw and did was amazing, it wasn't even close to what I set out to do. I slowed down everyone I climbed with. As I slowed to a snail pace and was sucking as much thin as fast as I could, people said it was because I was inexperienced. While I am definitely inexperienced, the only cure for that is experience. Maybe it is only because I am inexperienced, but I don't think more knowledge can replace oxygen. A few observations:

1) I am a lot stronger than I needed to be. I lifted weights, did chin ups, and carried a heavy pack up and down hills before this trip. That part of my training did not help at all. What good is lifting 300lbs at sea level if your own legs are too heavy at altitude?

2) While anyone can always be in better cardiovascular shape, I run marathons, and some of the climbers running circles around me at altitude don't even work out.

3) I know other people coming from sea level climbed Cotopaxi (5,897m) after 1 week in Quito (2,800m) without any other acclimation. I acclimated for 10 days, including climbing Rucu (4,698m), 2 nights sleeping at Tambopaxi (3500m) and 2 days on Cotopaxi around 5000m. I did not suffer the nausea and headaches from altitude that some of the other faster climbers did, I just slowed down.

4) More willpower will not help much. Willpower means I would not give up as easily, and maybe move a little faster. I may have gotten farther, but I still would move too slowly to get to the top safely.

5) We did nothing technical, so better skill in this area wouldn't help much.


I want to be able to do this. I will put myself through whatever mental or physical training I need. But I can't spend more time at altitude or take longer trips to get better acclimated, at least not until my job situation changes in a few years. Do I have to give up any high altitude trips until then? Any advice on how I can be a better climber?
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby bird » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:17 pm

bvbellomo wrote:I acclimated for 10 days, including climbing Rucu (4,698m), 2 nights sleeping at Tambopaxi (3500m) and 2 days on Cotopaxi around 5000m.

My guess is your issue could be here. Specifically the 2 nights at Tambopaxi and then the 2 days on Coto. I did something similar and the 2 days at Cotopaxi beat the crap out of me. No sleep, poor eating, etc.
Next time, I would try going back to Quito or lower for a night or two. Let your body recover from the other acclimating, then up to Coto later in the day, sleep (or toss around) for 4-5 hours, then get up at midnight and get back down before the altitude beats you up too bad.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby CClaude » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:29 pm

Don't berate yourself, if you were as fit as you could have beeen going into the trip. Everyone's experience at altitude (ability to acclimatize, and athletic preformance at altitude) will be dependent on genetics, at what altitude you live at, your overall health going into the higher altitude (fighting a cold, stomach flu,....) level of hydration, and a multitude of other factors.

Personally, my house is at 7000+ft. Since I train at a higher altitude the whole year, my ability to preform at a higher level will be better then someone who comes from sea level all other things being equal. Its just my physiology has time to adjust to this altitude, and it does take time. Much longer then merely acclimating to the altitude. Someone who lives at 11K ft will have an advantage over me.

What good is lifting 300lbs before a trip to altitude. Normally on most trips I loose quite a bit of weight. I find that no matter what weight I start at, I usually end up about the same weight, with the exception of, if I have more muscle mass starting out. Since I want to be able to climb decently after I get back from a trip, I try to bulk up in muscle mass before I start out.

The cardiovascular training most likely helped out. But when you compare yourself to others it may not seem that way. But if you compare yourself (being optimimally trained) to yourself (without training) you would probably do much better being trained. Its just everyones genetics are different.

I also notice that you are probably fairly young (given that you are a grad student). I found that personally as I have gotten older my physical preformance at altitude has improved, even though my best endurance preformances are probably 5 yrs ago (given I had a major knee injury as a result of slipping on some ice during a run).

Did you have fun? If you had fun, chalk this up as an experience and go after it again. Know that you may be a bit slower, and adjust your expectations. Next time with additional experience, you may become faster, all things being equal.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby Ze » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:39 pm

maybe you need one of those low pressure tents to simulate (not sure how well they work)

bvbellomo wrote:1) I am a lot stronger than I needed to be. I lifted weights, did chin ups, and carried a heavy pack up and down hills before this trip. That part of my training did not help at all. What good is lifting 300lbs at sea level if your own legs are too heavy at altitude?


it won't help, just a weight cost. but how much extra muscle mass did have that you could have shed?
Last edited by Ze on Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby fatdad » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:41 pm

A couple notes really. First, you indicated that you ran marathons but were much slower than those who didn't. But if you're a slow runner, that won't really make much of a difference.

Second, it sounds like you acclimated poorly, for whatever reason. You may need more time or maybe even something like Diamox. My wife, who's generally in good shape, does really poor at altitude. However, when she got a prescription for Diamox, she said her lungs felt like they just opened up and she could breathe.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby bvbellomo » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:14 pm

Without experience, I did what I could to get in the best possible all around shape I could, which included lifting. I figured even a non-technical climb would require upper body strength to lift my body with my arms, and as CClaude said most people lose weight on these trips, and I did lose 15lbs.

As far as losing bulk help me, I have a thin upper body for someone who lifts what I do, even less muscle mass than a lot of people who don't lift at all. I could have lost 10lbs more fat though. I definitely can afford to shed some muscle on my legs, but I have no idea how do that while staying in shape aerobically, and the trip reports reported tired and sore legs.

CClaude, I had lots of fun, and am not berating myself. As I said, it was an amazing trip. I am not trying to plan what to do for my previous trip. I am trying to plan what to do for my next trip. Also, it isn't all about me having fun when other climbers have less fun because they are waiting for me.

FatDad: I thought the same thing about a slow marathon, and while just under 4 hours isn't horrible, I certainly wasn't close to winning the race either. Would I have been better off training for a 5 minute mile or 17 minute 5k instead?
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby CClaude » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:58 pm

bvbellomo wrote:......
Also, it isn't all about me having fun when other climbers have less fun because they are waiting for me.

Would I have been better off training for a 5 minute mile or 17 minute 5k instead?


Its good that you aree thinking about your partners, but as I said, if you've done everything in your ability to train for the trip, arrived healthy and tried to stay healthy.... you've done your part. No one can fault you, and that is what partnerships are about. Hell, I've had a trip where my partner and I trained hard for a year, we got onto the mountain and he drank contaminated water on the way in (and I warned him). By the time we were ready to cross the bergshroud he was having gastro-intestinal distress and then developed bronchitis. I ended up carrying some of his load and gave him most of my food on the retreat. Its a partnership....

Is it better to train for a 5 minute mile or a marathon. A bit of both. The training for the mile helps with cardiac stroke volume (which does improve altitude athletic performance) but it still is largely an aerobic thing which the longer training helps with.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby fatdad » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:34 pm

It could be that you're just not an altitude machine. Your marathon time is respectable, so it's not like your a clydesdale or unusually slow. It's also possible that you just had a bad trip--whether it be an undetected virus, etc. It's worth noting that even experienced mountaineers get sick unexpectantly. Greg Child, who had previously summitted K2 without oxygen got HAPE at K2 base camp several years afterward. He wrote that the last thing he heard after he passed out in a Gamov bag was the team leader saying 'it is not possible he's altitude sick,' so you never know.

Basically, like others have said, you have to go for your own gratification. If others have to wait for you, they have to wait for you. Who knows, maybe they're own waiting prevented them from getting sick from climbing too high too quickly.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby DersuUzala » Sat Feb 05, 2011 5:19 pm

bv - great advice from everyone. Noone knows how they will perform at higher altitudes so now you have a baseline for yourself. Physiologically, it is aggravating because there is no correlation as to how one will perform at altitude versus age, weight, gender, etc. You are an Ohio flatlander! Don't we all wish we had the luxury of living like CClaude above 7,000 ft and having a high red blood cell count, yet increased RBCs are only part of the picture. While "climb high, sleep low" is a very good thing, true acclimation is a much longer process. Some people luck out with a forced acclimation and some don't. I'm glad you had a great time and I think you've got the right attitude so don't be discouraged, the mountains will always be there!

You may have been a victim of "ketchup (catch up!) syndrome", that is - others were moving faster than you and what you really needed to do was slow down but you didn't want to lag behind and were probably told to move faster to stay with the group. Were you doing rest steps and forced air breathing? Psychologically, this can be devastating. It's a real drag (no pun intended) that the faster climbers dictate that you should move at their pace, but that's how it often is with a group climb. You're absolutely right about experience, it is key. I would suggest having your own guide and moving at your own pace, with more experience at altitude you will work your way to the front of the rope.

Climb on!!!
Last edited by DersuUzala on Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby bird » Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:23 pm

Ze wrote:maybe you need one of those low pressure tents to simulate (not sure how well they work)

bvbellomo wrote:1) I am a lot stronger than I needed to be. I lifted weights, did chin ups, and carried a heavy pack up and down hills before this trip. That part of my training did not help at all. What good is lifting 300lbs at sea level if your own legs are too heavy at altitude?


it won't help, just a weight cost. but how much extra muscle mass did have that you could have shed?

Do you really think 5-10 lbs of muscle made that much of a difference? I doubt it. I've seen guys with 20lbs of extra fat climb just fine.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby Ze » Sun Feb 06, 2011 6:56 am

I dunno, maybe nothing significant. Extra 10 lbs probably = maybe 5% increase in oxygen demand / decrease in speed.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby The Chief » Sun Feb 06, 2011 1:45 pm

I call BULLSHIT on the weight deal. The dude below was always a good 5 kilos over avg weight for his size, 5'4". He also smoked like a chimney at 5-8000 meters. Hell, he even lit upon summitting Annapurna via the hard earned and incredibly achieved First Ascent of the South Face.
Image


Genetics, general life-style and diet play big roles in altitude endeavors. Many folks do not take these very important factors into consideration.

I recommend that you get and read the following book to get a better grasp of the whole issue at play in one's altitude physiology. Understanding the factors and physical mechanics will allow you a better advantage in order to train and prepare for any future altitude adventures. Just my penny's worth....
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby fatdad » Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:30 pm

Chief,
You beat me to the Don Whillans reference. Annapurna South Face was the first mountaineering book I ever bought and I remember it was the pudgy Whillans who was one of the only two who summitted. I know there's a picture out there of him hiking in to a climb in the Himalaya, wearing a cheap suitcase and an umbrella threaded thru the shoulder staps. He's shirtless and he's got a nice beer belly. He looks like a lost tourist. But man could that dude climb. Probably not the best example for all of us to emulate though. That guy was just a pure climber, a natural.
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Re: How to be a better climber

Postby Ze » Sun Feb 06, 2011 6:33 pm

The Chief wrote:Genetics, general life-style and diet play big roles in altitude endeavors. Many folks do not take these very important factors into consideration.

I recommend that you get and read the following book to get a better grasp of the whole issue at play in one's altitude physiology. Understanding the factors and physical mechanics will allow you a better advantage in order to train and prepare for any future altitude adventures. Just my penny's worth....


genetics & diet matter? no shit!

physical mechanics....hmm lets see, for a specific individual with certain genetics and diet, more weight = more workload = work demand for oxygen. Of course on a month long trek, extra weight (fat) could help...
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