Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

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Aarongblack

 
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Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by Aarongblack » Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:35 pm

I'm looking to improve my training for Denali. I'm looking specific fitness benchmarks. For example each branch of the armed forces has their own PFT standards. Anyone, particularly those who have climbed Denali, have suggestions about specific fitness standards to aim for?

For example: mile times or interval times (as a gauge for MaxVO2 output), pushups, pullups, bench, squat (reps/weight), etc.

I realize there is no substitute for pulling a massive sled up-mountain through snow in the freezing cold for miles but I'm looking for some goals to shoot for that may help better approximate relevant training goals rather than the ambiguous "best shape of your life" and "carry a 70lb pack for miles" goals that the guide services suggest. I'd like to hear from anyone who has actually climbed Denali and found that reaching certain benchmarks for particular fitness functions was helpful.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by ExcitableBoy » Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:09 pm

So, I've climbed Denali, and I really like to train, and I have to say that Denali via the West Buttrash was the easiest mountain that I've climbed in Alaska. The camps are very close together, the days are short (my longest day was 5.5 hours, and that was a carry from 11K to 14k and back). The sled was not massive, and my pack never weighed more than 50 lbs. And we brought a bunch of extra (heavy) gear for a technical route.

Bench marks like mile times, VO2 Max, # push ups, pull ups, etc. are pretty irrelevant. Other mountains that you have climbed like Mt. Rainier are much better bench marks. If you felt pretty good on Rainier, you likely will be OK on Denali. Off the top of my head, and I don't like to advocate this type of thinking, you should be able to carry a 50-60 lb pack for 8-10 miles with 6-8,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and be able to get up and do it again the next day. Pulling a sled is more an exercise in frustration than an exercise in, well, exercise.

I think just having a well rounded fitness plan is key. Include resistance work that hits your core, upper body, and legs (could be X-Fit, could be free weights, could be body weight routines). A few specialized exercises can help. Cardio is of course extremely important. The classic routine of three runs per week work well - one long slow distance day, one interval day, (hill repeats are great), and one tempo run.

I think most importantly is to include one 'depletion' day a week. This is a day where you mimic the demands of climbing for a long period of time. If you can get to the mountains, then obviously climbing will be the best work out. In the winter snow shoeing and XC skiing are great too. Trail running for very long distances, hiking with a loaded pack with lots of elevation gain, and long, hard bike rides, can all work. Basically training your body to work hard for long periods of time with limited nutrition.

I would really just get a good plan together and stick to it. Here is a good web site (my personal trainier's) that has a lot of good information on training for climbing: http://www.bodyresults.com/mountaineering-training.asp. S

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by DukeJH » Wed Jul 20, 2016 5:19 pm

At one time, Alpine Ascents listed some benchmarks for some of their climbs on their website. They have revamped the site so I don't know if that information is readily available. I've used two books/plans successfully to prepare for climbs.

First was Climbing: Training for Peak Performance from Mountaineers Books. It touches on exercise, diet and supplements and provides a number of general training plans from weekend warrior to big mountain expedition. I used this book to prepare for a 5 day glacier mountaineering class followed a month later with a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch. I was in better shape than the 14-16 year olds.

Second is Training for the New Alpinism, A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnson. This reads more like a text and provides the information and building blocks for you to develop a plan that works for you depending on your goals, objectives, and current level of fitness. I used a program I developed from this book to prepare for Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams over 6 days. Other than not getting enough sleep, I was plenty strong and plenty fit.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by Aarongblack » Wed Jul 20, 2016 5:48 pm

Thanks for the great feedback (both of you). My training for Rainier included upper and lower body weight training, and backpacking w/50lbs 5-7 miles on as big of hills as I could find here in St. Louis (read: not big). I think the thing that really helped was all the MaxVO2 work I put in during the final month or so of training, and weekly sessions of 60 min. on the stair machine holding two 20lb kettle bells. Even so Rainier pushed me to about 85-90%, so I want to get much stronger in terms of endurance with weight.

I like the thinking on the depletion workouts. I noted that on the actual climb my calves and hip flexors did a lot more work than my long trail runs had trained them for. My pack training helped with that, I'm sure. Calves did a lot of work, especially on the downhill surprisingly. I wish there was a way to add resistance on the stair machine without holding kettle bells or wearing a hot weight vest, and not looking like an ass with a backpack on in the gym. If you've got any ideas let me know.

I guess what I'm really hoping to improve is my ability to climb at a greater tempo/speed with more weight while not moving into the anaerobic zone. It seems like Denali is almost more mental with the cold/wind and boredom as you sit around waiting for weather windows. Not sure how to train for that except to go mess around in the woods during winter for a few days :). Too bad I don't have a meat freezer to stash a stair machine and Hypoxico tent in. I've always been one who likes to over-think and over-prepare (drives my wife crazy).

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by Aarongblack » Wed Jul 20, 2016 6:25 pm

Excitable Boy,

you said "Denali via the West Buttrash was the easiest mountain that I've climbed in Alaska."

I'm curious, everyone talks about the danger on Denali Pass. How would you compare Denali Pass to the climbing above the Cleaver on Rainiers DC route? Pics make them look pretty similar.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by asmrz » Wed Jul 20, 2016 6:34 pm

I agree with the above statements totally.

But to further simplify things, you can do the following:

Load 50 pounds into your pack.

Find either hill that's about 1,000+ feet in height and about a mile or two ( might be difficult at your place) or find local stadium and first hike, then speed up and down its stairs for long enough to get the 1,000-1,500' foot gain. Do it three or four times a week and time yourself each time. After you get a bit comfortable with the workout, push your times as much as you can. When it gets too easy, throw extra 10 pounds into the pack. Do this 4-5 months before you go and you will be fine.

Working out with weights and some jogging in your "spare" time will not hurt either. Your stair machine work out sound great...

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by ExcitableBoy » Wed Jul 20, 2016 6:55 pm

Aarongblack wrote:I guess what I'm really hoping to improve is my ability to climb at a greater tempo/speed with more weight while not moving into the anaerobic zone.

Intervals and tempo runs will address this. Resistance work and hiking with a heavy pack will do help as well. For intervals I like to find a big hill (I live in the mountains, so that is no problem) and then run uphill as hard as I can for 90 seconds. Towards the end I see stars, then everything goes red, then black - nearly to the point of passing out, then I jog back down hill and jog in place for 3:30. That makes one 5 minute rep. I do this starting out at 6 reps and work up to 9 reps. With a 15 minute warm up and 15 minute warm down, it is the hardest workout of the week for me, including 30 mile runs in the mountains. My tempo runs are 12 miles runs, partly on roads, partly on trails at a fast pace (for me ~ 6:20 miles), keeping my heart rate just below the anaerobic zone.

Aarongblack wrote: It seems like Denali is almost more mental with the cold/wind and boredom as you sit around waiting for weather windows. Not sure how to train for that except to go mess around in the woods during winter for a few days :). Too bad I don't have a meat freezer to stash a stair machine and Hypoxico tent in. I've always been one who likes to over-think and over-prepare (drives my wife crazy).


You hit the nail on the head. All of my previous climbs in AK were on technical routes where we climbed alpine style. The whole pace of an expedition is something entirely different. Bring books, games, cards, etc. to pass the time. As for the cold, we went late May through June and although it was a particularly cold year, it was never that cold. -30F at night at 17K, but it is a dry cold, much easier to deal with than the wet cold of the PNW.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by ExcitableBoy » Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:02 pm

Aarongblack wrote:Excitable Boy,

you said "Denali via the West Buttrash was the easiest mountain that I've climbed in Alaska."

I'm curious, everyone talks about the danger on Denali Pass. How would you compare Denali Pass to the climbing above the Cleaver on Rainiers DC route? Pics make them look pretty similar.


I don't recall anything particularly exposed or dangerous on the West Buttress, other than the section between the top of the fixed ropes at 16.5K and 17K camp. That section is the only place where I felt I was 'climbing' as opposed to walking. A fall here would be bad, bu there are fixed ropes in the most exposed spots. The stretch from the 17K camp to Denali Pass is nick named the 'Autobahn'. The year I climbed it, two brothers from Ohio slipped and died on it, but for no reason. It is basically an exposed, slightly rising traverse, well protected by fixed pickets. As long as you clip your rope through the pickets, you are protected. As a side note, there were Eastern European climbers who crossed this section not only un-roped, but without ice axes, only trekking poles and crampons!?!? Technically, the DC and the West Buttress are fairly similar. The head wall above 14k is steeper than anything on the DC but it is fixed entirely with ropes.

I did feel the 'historical' weight of the mountain, even after climbing a number of considerably harder AK Range routes/peaks. All the stories, like '-148' and 'In the Throne Room of the Gods' creates a gravity that is palpable. So do read up on the mountain, but not too much :D

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by asmrz » Wed Jul 20, 2016 10:01 pm

ExcitableBoy

I remember one more spot on the upper mountain. Above Denali Pass, there is an upward traverse on a large face at about 35 degrees. Most people don't rope it, but over the years, there have been several accidents there, people falling off down to Peters (?) glacier.
Sorry guys, even after all these years,I still cannot figure out how to insert a photo. It is image 578306 and shows the traverse. Maybe someone can post it here.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by DukeJH » Thu Jul 28, 2016 6:54 pm

Aarongblack wrote:...backpacking w/50lbs 5-7 miles on as big of hills as I could find here in St. Louis (read: not big).


I forgot to mention that when I lived in North Texas (read: flat), I kept a Gregory Whitney with 50 lbs of dog food in my office and would climb stairs after work in my mountaineering boots. To make sure I incorporated the eccentric contraction of going downhill but to try and save my knees, I'd climb the stairs, elevator down, climb the stairs, walk down and repeat until I either got tired or bored out of my mind. We only had 6 floors and it was great mental training for the monotony of rest stepping an endless snowfield.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by ExcitableBoy » Thu Jul 28, 2016 9:59 pm

DukeJH wrote:To make sure I incorporated the eccentric contraction of going downhill...


This is very important. Simply working out on a stair stepper machine does not train your legs for the downhill, 9,000 feet of which is typically done on the same day as summit day.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by Aarongblack » Fri Jul 29, 2016 1:13 am

Thanks for all the tips, both of you. I understand what you are saying about the downhill, my legs hurt the most after the long descent on Rainier, more than the ascent.

I live in the midwest (St. Louis, moving to Springfield MO), and I hate that I can't train in the mountains, and that I'm stuck in the gym and rolling hills in the area. I think I'm going to do the 6 day Cascades training with Alpine Ascents next year, and then do some 14er's (Elbert etc.) in Colorado in March before Denali in June, for more snowy/winter weather climbing/camping/packing. I assume this will be the bare minimum in terms of actual mountain time, but again - midwesterner. Maybe I aspire to the wrong hobby.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by ExcitableBoy » Fri Jul 29, 2016 4:45 pm

Aarongblack wrote:I live in the midwest (St. Louis, moving to Springfield MO), and I hate that I can't train in the mountains, and that I'm stuck in the gym and rolling hills in the area. I think I'm going to do the 6 day Cascades training with Alpine Ascents next year, and then do some 14er's (Elbert etc.) in Colorado in March before Denali in June, for more snowy/winter weather climbing/camping/packing. I assume this will be the bare minimum in terms of actual mountain time, but again - midwesterner. Maybe I aspire to the wrong hobby.


Maybe you just live in the wrong area? The West has colleges too. I think you can get plenty fit with the program you describe and where you live. I've overheard climbers say they felt way better on Denali than Rainier because of the expedition pace allowed for acclimatization.

I think you will get a lot from a 6 day course. American Alpine Institute (AAI-1) is another outfit that offers such courses. As an aside, Todd Burleson, owner of Alpine Ascents International, intentionally named his outfit AAI to complete with his former employer, AAI-1. I know AAI-1 offers 'expedition skills' courses early season that involve sled hauling, camp building, ascending fixed lines, etc. You may find these to be more helpful than an general alpine skills course.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by DukeJH » Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:28 pm

ExcitableBoy wrote: Maybe you just live in the wrong area?

When I was in Texas I joked that if I got a chance to move where I could climb on the weekends I would be gone. Sure enough, I had an offer to start an office for a company in LA and off I went.

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Re: Fitness Benchmarks for Denali

by Aarongblack » Fri Jul 29, 2016 11:24 pm

I'm always looking for new opportunities out west, even applied for a position in Alaska in the spring. I like the AA Institutes "expedition skills" course and agree, it would be better than the general alpine course, but unfortunately as a college professor (business/management) my climbing season is limited to late may through early August. That's another reason I wished I lived in a mountain city, so I could get out there on the weekends.

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