Saturday, February 19, 2011

Training For Climbing

Within the next three weeks I'll be covering the top 3 components that are essential to a successful climb in the high ranges: Skills, fitness and equipment. The first will be fitness prep. A while ago a good friend of mine initiated me into the following program:

Mountain Climbing Fitness Program for the Gym

This fitness program is a three-part fitness program that takes place over six months and it must be tailored to accommodate the fitness level of every unique individual. The three components of the program are:

interval training
strength training
distance training

Both the interval and distance components involve training at specific heart rate zones. Both the strength and interval components require a short but effective warm up and cool down exercise to accompany the workout.

After the athlete assesses her fitness level, she must begin by ensuring that she has an appropriate base to begin building upon. This may take up to 8 weeks to establish before individuals can realistically begin to ramp up their intensity levels with the interval and distance training.

Throughout the six months of training, athletes should be aware of their energy levels and modify the workouts, accordingly, by increasing or decreasing the workload. Additionally, incorporating yoga  and pilates classes can be very beneficial if the athlete has the  time.

Interval and distance workouts is more fun when conducted outside the fitness club.

Athletes should calculate Maximum Heart Rate by the formula

MHR = 217 - (age x .85)

One should have a personal monitor watch.

Interval Training: 4 minutes on at 80-90% of MHR, then 3 minutes off at 60% of MHR. Do
four sets continuously. Running or fast walking on an incline is usually best.
Strength Training: Involves approx. 45 minutes of core and weighted exercises.
Distance Training: 60-90 minutes at 70-80% of MHR.
Activities include hiking or walking on an incline, cycling, x-country skiing, swimming, etc.

After a few weeks of building a good base, an appropriate training plan is as follows:

Monday: Interval training
Tuesday: Strength training
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Distance training
Friday: Interval training
Saturday: Strength training
Sunday: Easy and long Distance training

Of course, the above training schedule is an example only, and should be modified to the appropriate time schedule and energy level of each individual. Ideally, each component of the training program can be conducted once per week.

Strength Training follows:

Warm up for 15-20 minutes or eventually continue on after an easy distance workout.
Always begin with “core” strength first, this usually takes about 15 minutes.
-Do 5-30 reps per exercise and only one set of each exercise.
-Always be controlled, and always protect the back.
-Be slow on the eccentric, and be faster on the concentric.
-Mix some balance exercise in. After the core exercises move on the “weighted” exercises.
-Start with lighter weights and always use good technique.
-Be slow on the eccentric, and be faster on the concentric.
-Work in pairs of two exercises (different muscle groups) Example: 1 set of squats, 1 set of pull ups, 1 set squats, 1 set pull ups, etc…Then move on to the next pair of exercises.
-Always do a warm up set of 10-15 reps with very light weight first before increasing the amount of weight.
-Do three to four sets of 10-15 reps until joint strength is good and technique is solid. This should take at least three months to accomplish.
-Work toward doing four to five reps and four sets at max weight near the end of the six months of training if you are ready.

Core Strength

Basic Crunch 15 reps
-Hands on shoulders
-Keep elbows pointed up
-Come up about half way
-Keep heels on the floor

Single leg/arm back extension (prone position) 15 reps on each side
-Opposite arm/leg
-Face down (don’t look up)
-Thumbs up

Twisting sit up 15 reps on each side
-Position like a normal sit up
-Get in static position
-Hands on wrists
-Touch left elbow to left side, right elbow to right side
-Rotate head and shoulders together

Balance exercise on ball (on knees or standing on ball) One to Two minutes
-Fire core muscles to stay balanced

Straight up and down 10 reps
-Lay on back
-Start with legs off the ground
-Use hands as a “cradle” under buttocks
-Swing legs up, then push towards ceiling, then down slow

Prone back extension (superman) 10 reps
-Raise both arms and legs up at the same time
-Keep face pointed towards the floor
-Keep Thumbs up

Reach Across 15 reps each side
-Do one side at a time
-Position body in normal crunch position
-Place one arm alongside the body on the floor, the other along the sternum
-As you sit up the hand on floor goes across body and reaches beyond knees

Balance exercise 20 reps
-Squats on the BOSU ball, or any wobble board

Ball crunch 15 reps
-Grip ball with legs
-Use weight (or not) held above head, otherwise hands behind head
-Squeeze ball in and up off floor
-Touch elbows to knees (don’t rotate shoulders)

Weighted Exercises
(In pairs)
Squats 10-15 reps 3 sets
-Be sure to establish a level for the safety bar and rack.
-Position center on bar
-Elbows back
-Feet shoulder width apart, toes splayed
-Arch back
-Fire core
-Down to 90 degrees
-Don’t let knees come forward past the “toe line”
-Stick buttocks out

Pull-ups 10+ reps 3 sets
-Establish an appropriate counter weight
-Wide grip
-Raise head above bar

Seated row 10-15 reps 3 sets
-Establish a good resistance level
-Good stretch forward
-Stop back at perpendicular to ground
-Bring hands all the way to stomach

-Stick chest out

Single leg jump on box 5 reps 3 sets
-Try to land on one leg on box and also on floor

In addition, you must find a hill for at least thrice a week jog. Of course, the best climbing exercise is to go out to the nearest hills and climb on.  Indoor climbing is great for fitness but it is not the same as climbing on the range.  Next week I'll post a gear review of what I have used on the high mountains. The right equipment can help you tremendously in achieving your goal. Therefore, in addition to fitness, EQUIPMENT makes the  top three components list of a successful climb.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Training in the Alps

I have just returned from Chamonix, a cushy basecamp on the border of France, Italy and Switzerland.  I was training in this beautiful part of the world for this year's exciting climbs. This was the best winter since 2005 for ice climbing in the Chamonix/Trient/Cogne area. For the last  two weeks there was nothing but sunny days. Last week felt more like Summer than Winter.  Just last Saturday, Paul and I went rock climbing and people were wearing t-shirts at the local crag. Unbelievable! My training consisted mostly of snow, ice and mixed climbs. All the mixed climbs took place at the Mont Blanc massif. Some of the Ice climbing clinics took place in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Italy. It was great to be trained once again by my mountaineering Grand Master, Paul Farmer.

I started by climbing the Cosmiques on the Aiguille Du Midi. This route is, mostly, rated III AD, 4a, 4b. (at 3,731 meters) -- Most of this training was designed to focus on chimneys, vertical slab climbing, ice and  mixed terrain at altitude. The crux of this climb is the 5m vertical slab rated 4c. The climb is not so technically difficult as it is awkward, there are many exposed sections looking down the NW face and the cosmiques couloir.

Our other significant training was on the Aiguille  Verte (4,122 meters).  Henri Isselin describes this mountain as "perfectly proportioned... majestic bearing... the most beautiful of the beautiful... queen of the mountains... fascinating beauty... " -- OK! You get the point. The approach is done from the Grands Montets, after traversing the upper Glacier des Rognons we started our ascent of the steep-sided NE ridge. From the summit, where we ate our lunch,  we had the most awesome view of the Glacier de Argientere on our right and of the Drus right behind us.  The training here was also about mixed terrain climbing at altitude, ice and slabs. Some more awkward moves, as I traversed from one arrete to another and rappelled down some Plus Dificile rock. Again, lots of slab climbing on exposed faces.

Our snow training was done on the Glacier des Rognons overlooking the Glacier de Argentiere. Breathtaking... both the view and the work out!

Ice Climbing Training
Most of our ice climbing training took place in Italy, at the National Park Gran Paradiso and at the upper Argentiere in France.

Valmiana is listed on the topo as 110m, we actually stopped a little short of 5 pitches using a 60 meter rope! So the topo is not very reliable. L1 is mostly 80 degrees, L2 between 35 and 55 degrees, L3 is a consistent 70 degrees, L4 60/70 degrees. This climb is a perfect practice for anyone trying to attempt Lhotse. It reminded me of the gully below the upper coloir above C4 on Lhotse and the ice and rock conditions there last year, even the occasional rock fall. Valmiana is highly prone to avalanches, so Paul let me lead the higher pitches...

At Mur du Bar, Trient, I had worked on the A Boire! This was the most beautiful frozen waterfall on the Glacier de Trient last year, 100m -- L1 40m, 80 degrees and L2 60m of mostly 70 degrees, rappelled on abalakovs.

Over at Col des Montets, I cleared Initiatique, 50m of 50 to 75 degrees, and La colonne (the column), 50m. La colonne is one of the most popular climbs both for its striking beauty and calf challenge. Yeah, it burns!

Cascade de Lillaz (alt. 1,650m) the technical grade and type of ice depends on whether you take the right or left side, 250m long, a four to five pitches climb. 50 to 85 degrees. This climb was a good practice for a climb where you need to be committed since it's long and lots of fragile ice.  

Chandelle de Lillaz, 10m -- great practice for vertical climb. On the left side of Cascade de Lillaz. We did this just for fun (according to Paul), it was a lot of work for me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Scheduled Expedition for Spring 2011: KANGCHENJUNGA

Objective:        Mount Kangchenjunga
Altitude:           8,586 meters,     28,169 ft
Location:          Nepal/India border
Latitude:           27.73820   N 
Longitude:        88.13440   E
Year First Climbed:  May 25 1955
First Climbers:          George Band and Joe Brown, British Expedition

After a very long climbing season in the Himalaya and Karakorum in 2010, I took three months off to rest, enjoy family and friends, as well as my other hobbies.  But now I  have resumed my training for the upcoming climbing season 2011 in the Himalayas and Karakorum and am very excited about my upcoming expeditions since they will take me to some very special places in this world.

I'll start with the extremely remote Kangchenjunga this Spring 2011. My climbing partner will be Pema Chrring Sherpa and our  expedition will be following the route taken by the pioneering British expedition of 1955. Since the first ascension of this peak, there's a tradition among mountaineers not to stand on the actual summit. It's been said that the expedition leader of the British team who first got the permission to climb this peak promised the Maharajah of Sikkim that in deference to the local people's belief and reverence of the mountain, he and his team would stop a bit short of the summit.  I will consult with  Ms. Hawley, The Himalaya Database administrator, as to the acceptable distance from the summit and let her know that  I intend to honor this tradition as well, that is,  if the mountain Gods allow me to  make it that far up.  Most Expeditions since 1955 have stopped somewhere ranging from 2 feet to  about 6 feet short of the summit.

Kangchenjunga is one of the least accessible mountains of the Himalaya Range. I find this particularly interesting. This remoteness safeguards the unique experience I'll have  in a rather exotic part of the world, rich in local culture, fauna, flora, and fantastic panoramic views. Sounds like a mountaineer's paradise to me... This is a whole different climb than the Mount Everest one. Unlike the circus played at Everest every year, climbers should not expect to find BC to Summit fixed ropes, well trodden trails, or ice fall doctors making a "safe" passage for the occasional adventure backpacker through the Khumbu ice fall. The thought of descending steep faces, narrow  and corniced icy ridges in complete white out has stopped many from going higher on Kangch's hill. Kangchenjunga's complex topography is visible from satellite pictures as are the odd shape of the lines on its south face where I'll be. I'm sure this will be a challenging climb. It's said by many that Nanga Parbat (also known as the killer mountain) is the most difficult of the 8000ers in Pakistan due to its sudden change in the weather conditions and death defying descent. But Kangchenjunga is the most difficult 8000er in Nepal courtesy of its hurricane wind forces in the upper parts of the mountain, giving this mountain a reputation for the most dangerous descent because of the sudden change from calm to violent weather in mixed, dangerous terrain.  Nanga taught me a lot about high altitude mountaineering. For example, no matter how hard you have trained for a mountain and how badly you love that mountain, you still need to feel that connection with it, you must feel in sync with it.

The 8000ers inspire me, they electrify me as I feel so alive the higher I go. I would be lying if I said that the summit is not important to me when I climb an 8000er. Why would I invest so much time and sweat equity on a peak I'm not super motivated to summit? However, my climbing partners' lives are more important than any given summit and so is my own life.  No doubt, from every account, this is a mountaineers mountain in Nepal, and I hope that I'm ready to meet the challenges this mountain will throw at me.  My experience on Nanga was very valuable in learning how to deal with extremely high winds day in day out and with long lonely days that turned into weeks of double digits negative temperature and deep snow. In addition, I think that Nanga and Gasherbrum I (aka K5, Hidden Peak) were  great training grounds for facing Kangchenjunga's topography, especially, when you try to defend yourself from the objective dangers while hanging by your eyelashes. One slip and it's bye, bye! Ropes will only be fixed on the absolutely necessary areas for safety. The people I know who have climbed this mountain before, describe it as so remote, so inaccessible, and extremely inhospitable that the thought "what have I got myself into"  came to their minds a few times while they attempted  it.  I have been preparing myself physically and mentally for this awesome yet demanding climb.

Kangchenjunga has 5 main peaks: Main summit (8,586m), Yalung Kang (8,505m), Kangchenjunga West (8,420), and the Twin Peaks (both 8,476m). For the Sikkimese people who worship this mountain, each peak represent a treasure: salt, holy books, silver, gold, grains and jewels. It will be interesting for me to climb this mountain also since it's the eastern most 8000er in the Himalaya range. Last year I climbed the western most 8000er of the Himalayas: Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.

It is widely known that this mountain is infamous for mega avalanches, extreme wind, extreme low temps, and deep crevasses. all objective dangers seem to be gargantuan there, from snow fields to ice falls to deep crevassed glaciers. Yeah, all the fond memories of Nanga Parbat and K5 come back to me... :-)
Commercial logistics will be up to Basecamp, above it we'll have to take care of all the logistics on the mountain ourselves. Very cool... but a lot of work!

Kangchenjunga lies on the border of Nepal and Sikkim. This mountain was thought to be the highest mountain in the world until the  British Great Trigonometric Survey of 1849 established Everest as the highest and Kangchenjunga (8,586m) as the third, after K2 (8,611m). It can be climbed either from the Nepal side or the India side. However, the Sikkimese people regard Kangchenjunga as a sacred peak and so the Sikkim government has banned expeditions climbing from the Indian side. Of course, I'll be climbing it from the Nepal side. The trek to advanced base camp (ABC) will start from idyllic Ramche and follow the moraine that, eventually, will lead to ABC. Ramche is often described as  a village surrounded by dwarf rhododendrons, rivers and emerald colored lakes...  Some Sherpas say It's possible that one might see blue sheep on the hills and pandas in the lower elevations.

A strong mental and physical preparation is required to successfully accomplish such a project. I have been following the same plan of exercises for the climbs I did in the past but increased anaerobic. Also, I'll be working on my advanced expedition technique course in the Alps as well as mixed terrain/vertical ice climbing at altitude in February/March. Acclimatizing on shorter peaks before going to an 8000er has served me well in the past and I plan on doing it again this season.

To  assist me with increasing my chances at success in this peak, a  Bern, Switzerland based company will provide me with weather forecast data. These guys were right on with their weather forecast on every peak I climbed in the past.

Here is a little of Kangchenjunga's history:
One of the first accounts to attempt the summit of Kangchenjunga was by an expedition led by Professor Dyhrenfurth (he was quite a character). Professor Dyhrenfurth was well known in the mountaineering circles of the time and famous for his militaristic leadership.  Every book I read on Kangchenjunga describes him as a highly skilled expedition leader.  However, Dyhrenfurth would not give in to pressures from sponsors, the professor aborted the attempt on Kangchenjunga soon after an avalanche almost killed the whole team.

Mark Twain was one of the earliest visitors to the Kangchenjunga area, staying at Darjeeling Station, back in 1896.  Mr. Twain was so fascinated by Kangchenjunga's beauty and mysticism that he dedicated quite a few pages of his book Following the Equator to this magnificent peak.

In 1905, Aleister Crowley, one of the earliest explorers of K2, was also one of the first explorers of Kangchenjunga. He was the expedition leader for his team but was stripped off of his leadership position because of his inhuman treatment of the expedition's porters. By all written accounts of Mr. Crowley's Kangchenjunga expedition, he even refused to rescue members of his own team who had been caught in a deadly ice avalanche while he sipped tea in his tent.

In 1954, John Kempe of the Hyderabad Public School and his team saw a route on the upper Zemu glacier which seemed viable. Finally, on May 25, 1955  Britons George Band and Joe Brown touched the virgin summit of Kangchenjunga.

I'll have more detailed info on my trip to Kangchenjunga as I near the departure date.  I'll post the expedition's tracking site so you can follow my climbing progress as we near our departure date.  Also, my sponsor will be furnishing GoPro cameras and if they work well on the mountain, I'll have some videos  to post as well. 

 Suggested Readings:
Aleister Crowley - The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
Charles Evans - The Un-trodden Mountain
John Angelo Jackson - More Than Mountains
John Angelo Jackson - Adventure Travels in the Himalaya