A common question we get asked throughout the year is “what type of mountain climbing training participants can do in preparation for a trip or a course”. There is no easy answer to that question but we will attempt to offer the following guidance in a general sense. Intermediate and Advanced trips and mountaineering courses will have higher fitness requirements.
First, before you begin any new fitness training program you should consult your medical professional and get their clearance. That’s our disclaimer out of the way.
Fitness levels will inevitably vary person to person but our expectation is that everyone is at the base level of physical fitness. Mountain climbing training need not be an Olympic style training program but the higher your fitness level, the more likely you will enjoy your trip or course. The best thing you can do to prepare for your trip or course is to show up physically fit. We rely on you to self-asses your fitness level as it relates to the expectations of the trip or course since obviously we can’t fitness test everyone before a trip. When in doubt, train more.
A lot of your time in the mountains will be walking up hill with a pack on. Pack weight is determined by the length of the trip and whether it is hut based or camping, but as a rule, the first time you are carrying a heavy pack shouldn’t be on the morning of your trip. The best training you can start off with is to find a steep hill, road or set of stairs and start walking up. Gradually increase the weight in your pack and the duration of the training so that you are comfortably carrying your expected pack weight with confident foot placement and steady movement. Remember, you will be walking over uneven terrain and often off-trail. There are very few paved paths or perfect steps in the mountains.
If you live at or near sea-level, you should make sure your cardio training is very strong and that you arrive in town a day or two before your trip starts to adjust to altitude. Canmore sits at about 1,400 meters above sea level. A lot of our training takes place at the 2,400 – 2,500 meter level with beginner level summits in the 3,000 meter and higher elevations.
In addition to hiking with a pack, cross training is an excellent way to accelerate your physical fitness. Running, cycling, mountain biking, weight training and other high impact cardio activities are all very effective ways to focus on physical conditioning and mountain climbing training. Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of these activities will definitely improve physical fitness.
Duration – How long can a day be?
A summit day can be anywhere from six to twelve hours. On beginner mountaineering courses we like to plan a long day that is followed by a less intense instructional day. In other words, give participant bodies a chance to recover while still getting through all of our curriculum. Some of your training should involve long hikes uphill and not just short stairs or roads. Leg strength, endurance and cardio are the difference between enjoying the climb versus suffering through a long day. Having the ability to move quickly means you can also reduce exposure to hazards such as avalanche paths, weather, or hanging glaciers.
Intermediate and Advanced Mountain Climbs
Intermediate and advanced mountain climbs require a higher level of technical skill but also a more complex physical fitness requirement. Endurance and upper body strength are very important to safety and enjoyment. You should carefully research the length of a trip or climb in addition to the grades to ensure you are ready for longer and more challenging days. Always error on the side of being more physically fit than you think you need to be.
The suggestions in this post are also applicable to Ski Touring and Backpacking. Rock climbing and ice climbing (depending on beginner, intermediate or advanced) should have more upper body, forearm and hand strength conditioning. Technical climbing is more anaerobic versus aerobic so training should be focused on that type of discipline. Leg strength is important to all aspects of climbing so if you are going to focus on any type of training, make it your legs. That said, many of the classic technical climbs in the Canadian Rockies have long and steep approaches so never skip the cardio and endurance training.
Preparing in advance for a mountaineering trip pays off in many ways. If you are on a public course, other participants are relying on you to show up ready for the planned itinerary. Before you consider a trip or course, make sure you have enough time to train if you don’t have a regular fitness program.
See you on the summit.