Edit: We have recived the ultimate unfortunate news. Here is a post update from Asa:
Ben and Gil’s bodies were found after what looks to be a fall from the SW ridge on their descent. A devastating loss to anyone who knew them. They were truly two of the most amazing guys I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with. They shared a passion for adventure that they expressed so brilliantly in their blog: pullharder.org and in all of their cutting edge ascents around the world.
The climbing community will mourn the lose of 2 great climbers and friends. Thank you to all who supported the SAR efforts.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this post.
Two climbers, Gil Weiss, 29, of Boulder, and Ben Horne, 32, of San Diego, one who is the roommate of a friend of mine have gone missing in the Cordillera Blanca range of northern Peru.
In this July 2012 photo provided by Galit Weiss, climber Gil Weiss, right, and Ben Horne pose for a photo as they climb the Palcaraju peak in Peru. (Associated Press)
Here is a link to an article about the missing climbers and the search and rescue operations, in addition to money and rescue manpower, the article outlines (as does a post from the Weiss family below) how we can help view satellite images to help in the rescue effort:
Here are some words from Asa Firestone, friend and roommate of one of the missing climbers:
Please spread the word:
Gil and Ben have been missing for approximately 5-10 days. They went to climb a new route on the South face of Palcaraju Oeste. A search team is on site, found their tent, and spotted their tracks coming off the summit down to about 5,800 meters. The team is attempting to climb to their expected location but it is highly treacherous. Efforts have also been made for air support, but it has been tough for many reasons.
There are 2 ways to help:
1. You can provide monetary support for these efforts at the following PayPal address: email@example.com
That is with a q not a g.
2. If you have climber contacts in Huaraz, Peru. Have them provide help getting supplies into the Cojup Valley. Or have them contact Asa Firestone or Charles Ince.
Thank you all and lets keep hoping for the best.
Also, from Galit Weiss:
Gil Weiss and Ben Horne are missing on the Palcaraju Peak in the Huaraz Natuinal Park, Peru. Missing for over 6 days, two days into rescue mission. Three men climbers on foot, climbing mountain are in need of aiir support team for the rescue mission. Additional funds are needed for flight hours of hiring private aircraft for the search and rescue mission (SAR). Here you will find the link for information regarding direct satellite imagery which was taken yesterday, please look on Google Earth, which is free to download, on your computer and smartphones. You will also find the two links for paypal donations, and are graciously being accepted. Any funds not used will be directly refunded back. We appreciate your financial support, connections, and prayers as we aim to bring Gil and Ben home safely. Gil and Ben Are top climbers and authors of the pullharder.org blog which chronicles their international climbing adventures. Thank you for helping us bring Gil and Ben home safely.
INTERACTIVE MAP to help save Gil and Ben
Google Earth Map Search and Rescue
The Weiss and Horne families
Thank you all for reading this and thank you for any help you can give.
OK all, Clay and I have been back for a while now and after much pushing and shoving I finally got this Denali trip report together for your reading and viewing pleasure. For those of you who don’t want to look at the whole shebang, spoiler alert, we summited. But, you should really look through it all because it has tons of photos and there is some stuff about illegal man/bear fighting and chimpanzee drug smugglers. Enjoy!
If you would like to enlarge any of the photos, click once on the picture which will take you to the photo’s title page. Click once more on the photo and it will enlarge. Hitting the back button 2 times will return you to the article.
After 9 months of training and preparation the day had finally come; we were flying to Anchorage to begin our adventure on North America’s highest peak, Denali. The previous 2 weeks had been filled with last minute gear orders, equipment lists, organizing, packing, second guessing, unpacking and repacking. This routine was happening to both Clay and me except that Clay had the added stress of dealing with all of our expedition food, a task far more epic than putting together his alpine climbing kit. After a lot of effort we finally were ready to haul 120 plus lbs of gear each to Anchorage where we would do a final sort and continue to Talkeetna where we would depart for the mountain.
Expedition climbing takes lots of gear and food. Clay’s kit including all the expedition meals packed at home (left) and Brad ready to check in at the Reno airport with his 120 lbs.
Of course, our flights going smoothly was too much to ask and although Clay had a great non-stop from Denver, my route was a ridiculously circuitous Reno-Salt Lake City-Minneapolis-Anchorage. Upon arriving in Salt Lake I found that due to mechanical trouble our plane to Minneapolis would not make it in time for the Anchorage connection but I was able to re-route through Portland. Despite assurances that my bags would also make the change however, they did not and having been sent to Minneapolis, I was without most of my gear for a day.
To top off the rouge bags, Clay’s friend Tyson who was our ride and place to crash had to work and could not pick us up. Being on a small budget we were left searching for a cheap motel at 4 am. A 40 dollar cab ride later we found ourselves in the Spenard Inn, AKA the Spomo, a rundown pay by the hour den of iniquity with questionable sheets and worse tenants.
After a bit of itchy sleep filled with dreams of bedbugs we started sorting food and soon realized we had way too much. After some reorganizing and discussion we decided to leave behind at least 20 lbs that we were sure would be extra. This was the beginning of what we would discover to be the crux of planning a long expedition; the food.
Well organized meals for 25 days? More like 35. The sorted food after the first 20 lb cull.
Finally, after hours of waiting my bags arrived at the motel and we were able to do a final gear check and sort which reiterated just how much stuff we would have to carry up the mountain.
The final gear check before departing to Talkeetina.
Tyson soon arrived and we were shocked to see that his mode of transportation was a Toyota Carolla which we had to stuff with 3 men, 1 dog and 250 lbs of gear including 2 sets of skis. To the detriment of the Carolla’s rear shocks and tires everything went in, but I am still surprised we were not pulled over with skis sticking out the windows and zero visibility out of the back of the car.
Arriving in Talkeetina early that morning we said goodbye to Tyson and hit the awesome free bunkhouse that is provided by Talkentina Air Taxi for clients. We quickly went to bed and were soon awakened at 5 AM by a Czech party loudly stomping and yelling for no apparent reason. Eventually the Czech’s left the house, to what destination at 5 am in Talkeetina I’ve no idea, but the ability to sleep again was much appreciated and we dosed again for a few hours before heading to the NPS station to check in.
In a previous call to NPS we were told that we should have booked an orientation session days earlier because they were full and would not be able to fit us in until the next day. Frustrated by more delays but unwilling to concede we walked to the station and asked if we could wait and be slipped in that day. To our surprise we learned that the very same Czech team that had so rudely rattled the bunk house had not shown up for their appointment so we could take theirs. Smiling at our little karmic victory, we sat down with an awesome climbing ranger named Chris who told us all about the climb, checked that we had the right gear, gave us our clean-mountain-can and sent us on our way. We never discovered what became of the Czech team.
The awesome Talkeetna Air Taxi bunkhouse allows climbers to crash, cook and store gear before and after their climb.
After the NPS orientation we moved all our gear to the Talkeetina Air Taxi terminal (TAT picks you up at the bunkhouse which is awesome) where we checked in and weighed up. Here we decided that we still had way too much food and ditched another 17 lbs in the airport storage unit, along with the other items we would not need until our return. We also decided to abandon our plans to bigwall freeclimb on the Ruth Glacier after the West Buttress climb because the extra gear, energy, cost and logistics just became too much to deal with. After weight in, we organized our gear plane-side, waited to help load the bright red single engine Otter and were soon off on our flight to Denali’s glacier base camp.
Brad gets in a quick bite to eat before loading the Otter and flying to base camp.
A 40 minute flight later saw us quickly unloading our bags on the S.E. Fork of the Kahiltna glacier and checking in with the NPS base camp manager who provided us with our fuel and sleds. At base camp we found a spot to rig up our packs and sleds, spent some time on last minute crevasse rescue techniques and set off up the glacier around 10pm.
(Clockwise from top) Quick crevasse rescue refresher once in Base Camp; Clay sets up a haul. Kahiltna camp and glacier landing strip from the air. Base camp in the twilight before heading to Camp 1.
Right out of base camp you descend the 400 feet of Heartbreak Hill, a slope so named because you have to re-climb it upon returning to base camp after a long descent from the upper mountain. Here you often see people have their first problems with skiing with a sled and our party was no exception. However, we quickly found a good ski/skin/sled combo that worked and were soon at the bottom of Heartbreak.
Clay dealing with an unruly sled while navigating Heartbreak Hill.
After Heartbreak Hill the route takes a rolling and slowly rising path over 5 miles up the lower Kahiltna to Camp 1 at the base of Ski Hill at 7800 feet. Somehow we lucked out and were the only 2 people on the lower glacier that night. To be in such a foreign environment, stunningly beautiful in it’s ever present hostility, and to be able to experience the still quietness that only a lonely glacier can produce with just one other person was serenely spectacular.
Never quite dark, traveling on the lower Kahiltna during night is a safe strategy. The silence of the glacier is only broken by the swish of skis, panting breath and the spooky sound of an occasional distant avalanche.
Clay and I slowly moved up the glacier, each with our 120 lb single carry, taking in the majesty of where we were and fighting the gnawing fatigue that increased every hour. Eventually we traversed the 5 miles and 1000 feet, found an unoccupied site (we would never have to dig our own sites the entire trip), forced down some food and crashed after an exhausting first day.
Dug in at Camp 1 (left). View of Camp 1 and Ski Hill with 2 climbers visible ascending the slope (right).
Having switched to a nighttime schedule to ensure cool temps and firm snow bridges over crevasses, Clay and I slept the day away and departed Camp 1 sometime in the evening. Strategies vary on the next section of the climb with many parties double carrying to 10k feet, returning to Camp 1 to sleep, moving to 11 Camp (10,800 feet) and finally returning to 10k feet to retrieve supplies. Clay and I opted for the more aggressive strategy of one big single carry to 11k camp which, although not an uncommon practice, proved to be a very rough and long day. We climbed through a cold night and watched as the sun slowly entered the glacial valley to beat down on us. The cold night transformed into a scorchingly hot day. We stopped often and even made a full meal at 9800 feet where Clay napped under the ferociously hot midday sun. Slowly, in the oppressive heat we made our way up to 11k camp where we found a nice empty site and set up camp.
The surreal route up the Kahiltna glacier, day 2 before the climber roast began.
(Clockwise from Top Right) Clay cooking up a full on meal at 9800 feet. Our site and view at 11k feet. Enjoying a pizza party at 11 Camp. Fixing a broken tent pole at 11 Camp.
During a rest day at 11k feet we sorted gear and food, deciding what we would be taking to 14k feet and putting together a dedicated high camp bag to go to 17k feet. On the morning of day 4 we set off on a single cache carry to 14 Camp (14,000 feet), also known as Basin Camp or Advanced Base Camp. With half of our gear we climbed all the way to ABS, buried our food and sleds and returned to 11k feet. The next day we broke camp and moved to 14k.
Clay dragging a sled in snowy conditions around Windy Corner (top). Advanced Base Camp at 14k feet; a small city of climbers and NPS climbing rangers (bottom). A good trail up the West Rib Cutoff (a different route) is visible on the slope above ABS, left of the seracs.
Until this point we had climbed in mostly great weather; even the notorious Windy Corner at 13k feet was calm on each pass. At Advanced Base Camp we had some decisions to make and weather would be the biggest factor. Our 1st plan was to have a rest day and if the weather looked good for 2 days we would pack light to High Camp (17,000 feet), spend one night, summit the following day and descend down to 14k feet. This plan was not to come to fruition however as the weather was intermittent and un-summitable. Eventually we decided on a more traditional approach.
After one rest day we did a cache carry to 16,500 feet where we buried high camp supplies including all the high camp food, a stove and pot and our fuel. We returned to ABS and the next day moved to 17 Camp which is the best and most exposed section of the West Buttress route. The day started well but the route turned very cold and windy on the ridge, causing at least one person in another party to suffer advanced frostbite in a few fingers. We anticipated picking up our cache on the way but this proved too heavy and cumbersome so we re-buried 2 days of food below Washburn’s Thumb and continued to 17k feet to wait out the bad weather.
(Clockwise from top left) Leaving 14 Camp to move to High Camp at 17k feet; you can see climbers on the headwall in the top left below the notch. “Team California” on the ridge to 17 Camp with Mt. Foraker visible in the background; one member of this party would suffer advanced frostbite on the traverse and the whole team bailed as a result. Clay leading the fixed lines on the headwall below at 16k feet.
At 17k camp we were forced to hang out waiting for a summit bid for 3 days so we occupied our time reinforcing snow walls around our tent, constantly melting snow for water, hanging with the NPS climbing rangers, reading and sleeping. We only had 2 days worth of food but as other parties decided to call it quits we gleaned supplies and so did not have to descent to pick up our cache. On day two at High Camp Clay and I set off on the route for an acclimation hike and maybe the summit in marginal but calm, warm weather hoping that we would find good conditions above Denali Pass but were turned around at 18k when the wind picked up and visibility dropped making continuing too dangerous.
(Clockwise from top left) The magnificent view from High Camp. The 17 Camp site pre-wall remodel; high winds at High Camp require high, strong snow block walls to protect tents and inhabitants. A view of 17 Camp from above on the Autobahn near Denali Pass; camp is visible as a cluster of tents near the center of the photo.
On the morning of day four at High Camp I stuck my head out of the tent expecting to see more of the same but instead viewed a cold, crystal clear and calm day. Clay and I prepared as quickly as possible and in an hour or so found ourselves on route with the entirety of 17 Camp in front of us, including 2 huge guided groups. We moved with deliberate slowness because the groups ahead were in the shade and at -20 degrees in the sun we had no desire to catch up and freeze to death. Eventually all the parties fanned out and we found that the pace we were most comfortable with was actually slower than the guided groups so being in the back was not the problem we had anticipated.
Ants on the march; a traffic jam on the Autobahn outside of 17 Camp; the distinct sun/shade line marks a huge difference in temperature and the stuck climbers in the shade were undoubtedly very cold.
We climbed for the day near another group from Alaska and together we slowly made our way up the Autobahn, through Denali Pass, across the Football Field, up Pig Hill, along the Summit Ridge and finally to the summit and the top of North America. We shared the summit with our friends from Alaska and because the guided groups were on their way down we enjoyed the top with only 7 people total.
(Top to bottom) The gorgeous Summit Ridge. The last obstacle before the summit; Brad leads the summit ridge. Brad admiring the spectacular view. Clay ecstatic that he is on the long awaited top. Clay (right) and Brad (left) on the summit of Denali and the top of North America.
After an hour of picture taking and summit shenanigans, we all began our descent together. I had dropped a water bottle off the summit ridge and knowing where it stopped Clay and I took an annoying detour to retrieve it. The descent to 17 Camp went quickly despite a sudden and unexpected knee pain that began halfway down and had me grimacing by the time we reached camp. Having been the last group to descend we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular “sunsets” I have yet experienced (the sun never truly sets on Denali in the summer but does drop behind the mountains).
The most beautiful descent the team has ever experienced.
The descent plan was to sleep the night at 17k, drop to 11k and spend the night where we could then pick up our cached skis and cruise down to base camp. However, with marginal conditions on the descent to 14k, having to wait for numerous ascending parties to pass, digging up a cache along the way, a tough climb down the headwall when loaded with full gear and my knee feeling like it was going to explode, 14k camp was where we stopped for the night.
Descending the ridge to the Headwall in less than ideal conditions; although un-viewable in the photo, 2000 feet of drop on both sides makes this ridge section an exciting challenge.
In the morning we gave away all our extra food and fuel (a substantial amount), rigged our sleds and set off for base camp. We had some sled trouble coming down but after trial and error got a setup worked out that got the job done. Once in 11k camp we dawned skis, re-rigged sleds for a ski descent and took off. Here we really had problems and what should have been an easy 5000 foot ski descent turned into an epic battle against gear, bad snow conditions and fatigue. This is when skiing in my mountain boots and Clay’s lack of training in skiing with a sled and pack really set us back, but we persevered, systematically trying different setups and eventually figured out a system that worked OK.
Clay preparing to deal with an ultimately challenging descent from 11k to base camp.
Throughout the night we descended the lower Kahiltna glacier, ever mindful of the terrain as another climber had taken a big plunge into a crevasse the day before. At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill we slapped on skins and slowly trudged back to base camp, arriving at 2 am. We set up the tent and I retired immediately to my sleeping bag while Clay stayed up to make some food.
A beautiful morning back at base camp.
At 8 am I checked in with the NPS ranger and got on the list for a flight out to Talkeetna. We learned that the day before had been a no-fly day so there were loads of people queued up to fly out. Luckily, unbeknownst to us, we had picked an air taxi service with 19 planes (some only have 2) so we were able to get out of base camp soon after the planes started arriving.
(Clockwise from top left) Previously stranded climbers scrambling to ready for their flights out of base camp. Our plane out, a much smaller Beaver. Just one view of just one vast glacier that flows through the Alaska Range.
Arriving back in Talkeetna after a beautiful flight we gathered all our things, hit the bunkhouse to hang and dry gear, found the Road House Restaurant for some famous pancakes and coffee and explored the rest of the “end of the road” town.
In the end we summited in 12 days and spent 15 on the mountain. We later heard that we caught a one day weather window and after our summit day the mountain closed in and cut off climbers for another few days, so our patience and planning paid off.
10 days after returning home we learned that 4 Japanese climbers were caught in an avalanche that took out a small section of the main trail just above 11k camp known as Motorcycle Hill. Only one survived having been swept into a crevasse and was amazingly able to climb out. Although the path itself changes due to crevasse conditions, this section is mandatory and even though it does sometime avalanche in that area, the size of this slide was uncommon. Those climbers who lost their lives where climbing directly where we were just 10 days prior, which puts into perspective the inherent danger of the adventures we undertake and how lucky we are to experience such awesomeness and come back unharmed.
Is there a lesson to be learned from the Japanese team’s accident? I think so. We must always adventure, but do so with caution and the utmost respect for nature. We cannot let the “maybes” stop us from experiencing extraordinary things, but we must also be mindful and prepared so we will hopefully live long lives full of excitement, discovery, challenges, awe and wonder.
P.S. I lied about the bear brawling and ape drug cartel just to get you to read this. I hope you liked it!
Do you have a Denali experience to share, a question or just a comment? Well then, please feel free to use the comments box below!
In Part 2 of our series on the differences in how we manage training for Denali, we hear from Clay on how he rectifies living in Kansas and training for a big mountain.
CLAY: TRAINING IN EASTERN KANSAS
Oh my goodness, I miss the mountains! When I graduated from the University of Kansas in the winter of 2005, my stint in the flatlands was done. I KNEW that I would never again be subjected to the unrelenting monotony of the Great Plains. I gratefully migrated upstream to the rugged, majestic beauty of the mountains. Love at first hike! Rolling amazing terrain to hike, bike, run, climb, snow slide and swing ice tools… everything that I had longed for in the days of my youth in Kansas City. The mountain lifestyle got in my blood and, as with many of our ilk, became my lifestyle. My days of laziness and inactivity were a thing of the past! I found myself getting cranky if I was not out pushing myself mentally on the sharp end or post holing at altitude with the dogs “helping” to break trail. Training was never really on my mind, but the daily hike, climb or ride became the norm. I found grace in the seasonal migrations, following the snow uphill toward Summit County, CO, and then sliding with the melting snow down to the Left Coast for summer gardening and High Sierra playing. The grace of my waste vegetable oil–powered suburban and dumpster-diving for food made the free flow quite literal.
Ahh the days of yore…. writing about them brings a big ‘ol smile and loads of gratitude for that lifestyle. Training was not something that ever crossed my mind. Daily, I would scratch whatever itch popped up and stay in darn good shape in the process. Alas, change is the only constant in life, and a wedding in October of 2011 lured me back to Kansas City. I had a blast welcoming a new cousin-in-law to the family, and a 10-year reunion two weeks later seemed like a good way to wait for the snow to start falling in the high country. Well, there must be something about the combination of family, friends and loads of connections that can spring the trap of opportunity. I got snagged, hook, line and sinker, and found myself teetering on the edge of moving back to the flatlands. Fortunately, a climb of Rainier at the end of September 2011 with great friends led to a promising opportunity of another sort – a trip back to Alaska.
So, this past fall, I found myself with one of the most challenging decisions I have made in a long time: leave the mountains where I had found my bliss playing in the hills, connection to the Creator and a groovy seasonal lifestyle, or return to the flatlands to pursue exciting new opportunities and create a more sustainable future in community with family and friends. Hello conundrum! After loads of wrestling with pros and cons, ups and downs, ins and outs, the return to the homeland won. BUT, the caveat was that I had something BIG to look forward to – a trip to attempt Denali. I realized that this meant a huge change in my lets go play out the back door in the mountains mentality, to getting psyched up to train with a heavy pack running up stairs over and over. I love challenges, and generally thrive when they are presented. However, the abrupt and somewhat rude transition from earning my turns at 13,000’ after work to dripping sweat in a poorly lit stairwell in a tall building in Kansas City, Missouri, was, well, shocking.
I found that the surreptitious access to a hotel stairwell had replaced ducking ropes for powder turns; 330’ at a time with an elevator descent had replaced my hike off of 6 chair to Snow White Chutes at 12,000’ and descending with graceful turns down to the chairlift for another lap. Every week as I add another gallon of water to my pack or push for another lap in the dingy stairwell, I am motivated by the slopes of the Great One. It is a change to say the least. The miracle of the interweb continues to provide a constant level of motivation. Videos, blogs and trip reports all help to keep me motivated, knowing that others are out there getting the goods in the alpine realm. Regular trips also help keep the stoked meter up. An annual trip to Red Rocks in Vegas provided an opportunity to pack in some serious climbing. A return to Colorado to collect gear and dial in my ski/skin setup allowed me to solo some ice and grab some turns for sanity’s sake. Most recently, a trip to New England allowed for the first time exploration of the Gunks and Northern New England. Variety is a spice that I love, and it has certainly helped with the transition in both living location and training.
Finding ways to stay motivated with little to no vertical relief is far and away the most challenging part of living in Kansas City. The land that I had been caretaking in the San Luis Valley, CO, has an unbelievable view of the Sangre De Cristo mountains – 6000’ of vertical from valley floor to the summits of the Crestone Group of 14’ers. I placed my hangboard to maximize that view, and each session my inspiration and motivation came from the majesty before me. I went from that view to 33 lonely flights of stairs in a dark stairwell. Lets get psyched! I have never been a gym person and the idea of spending federal dollar notes to go sweat with suburbanites makes me want to puke. Time to reinvent and revamp the daily routine! I have found myself doing things that in the past I thought were crazy. However, necessity is the mother of invention, so the knobby tires came off the bike and slicks went on, the harness went into storage and the running shoes were found. No skis, snowboard or ice axes to play with this year – they were left for a lonely winter in a barn. I had gallon water bottles, ankle weights and a heart monitor to play with this winter. Learning intimately about interval training, hill repeats, periodization, nutrition are all part of the arduous and sweaty process. I have managed to find ways that I feel actually simulate some of the motions that will be encountered on the mountain. I spent a week shoveling, wheelbarrowing and raking more than 200 cubic feet of compost on a suburban permaculture project. If pushing 6 cubic yards of compost in a wheelbarrow through mud is anything like pulling a sled on a glacier than I am feeling pretty ready for this!
In the past several months, I have carried heavier loads, ran and ridden longer distances and durations than I ever thought possible. Pushing my body to the edge of its capability in new ways has proven to be an interesting and delightfully surprisingly change from simply playing. The necessity of changing both my mentality and mode of training has helped me to change my view on exercise. I am aware of the importance of daily physical activity on a deeper level. Living in Colorado, being active literally came with the terrain. Living in Kansas, exercise has become a necessity for sanity, yet one that does not come without motivation. Finding that motivation daily to go out and push myself is one that I still am challenged with. Fortunately the dangling carrot of Denali gets me stoked!
Do you have an experience to share, a question or just a comment? Well then, please feel free to use the comments box below!
This article was reprinted with permission from Tahoe Mountain Sports.
People ask Clay and I all the time how we are training for Denali and the answer is, “very differently.” Read how we manage it in this two part series.
Training for a big mountain is a funny thing. Oftentimes people who have their sights set on a far away peak don’t live anywhere near the mountains. Those of us who are lucky enough to reside in a mountainous domain are still challenged by the fact that the mountains we live near are usually much shorter that whatever goal we have in mind. Clay and I have found ourselves in both of these situations and it has made for an interesting 9 months of training. I live in Tahoe, which is a great area if you are in training for a mountain goal. Although the peaks top out around 10k feet, the plethora of mountains means I have plenty to keep me busy. Clay on the other hand lives in eastern Kansas, where the hills roll and the mountains are but a distant memory. He has had to adapt his training regiment to suit his surroundings and busier life. Here, in our own words, is how we manage training for mountain climbing with and without mountains.
BRAD: TRAINING IN TAHOE
I have always subscribed to the sport-specific method of training; the best training for a sport is to play the sport itself. Of course, I cannot go climb Denali all year, but expedition climbing a big mountain (as opposed to light and fast alpine style) is all about carrying lots of gear, and Tahoe affords me ample opportunity to prepare myself for really heavy loads. Having so many peaks out there helps me have lots of fun peak-bagging and seeing new places, and helps stave off the inevitable boredom that training eventually educes.
During the summer months I found myself hiking on dry dusty trails up to the many close summits that surround Tahoe. My two favorite trails for weight training became the “direct” approach to Pyramid Peak and the Ralston Peak trail. The Pyramid trail is a steep 4000-foot climb over a short 3.5–4 miles. This allows for a really tough day that can be completed relatively quickly. The trail offers spectacular views of Lovers Leap to the south and is the perfect outing for anyone who wants a stiff challenge.
The Ralston Peak trail starts higher and is thus shorter. It is also less steep, more scenic, is a little closer to Meyers, which all together provides a shorter day. It is also, in my opinion, the best-kept secret in Tahoe day hikes. Although no one ever talks about Ralston except to backcountry ski, this peak overlooks Echo and Aloha lakes and rewards hikers with some of the most magnificent views that Tahoe has to offer.
Besides being a climber that was in descent physical shape to begin with, I began my Denali training 9 months ago in the summer of 2011. I stayed pretty casual about it but tried to get out at least once a week for a steep day hike. I began with a 40 lb pack and eventually worked my way up to 60 on the trail. Because Tahoe did not produce a heavy winter this year, I stayed in trail hiking mode for many months, gradually increasing weight, distance and height.
Along with hiking I continued body weight strength training; pushups, climbing hangboard and pilates to build and maintain overall strength. I do not lift heavy weights, in part because as a climber I avoid adding mass, but mainly because I do not have access to a gym with weight lifting equipment. I also began running, which I hate, but I find running important as it adds an aspect of high-output cardio that helps me maintain a lower working heart rate while on a mountain. Running is also a great way to get a quick workout when you are pressed for time or can’t get out for a long day. I began with jogging a mile or two and worked my way up to five, where I capped my distance runs. In the 3 months prior to departure I added interval training, starting slow and working up to one hour of intervals at 45 seconds of fast running and 75 seconds of walking for recovery. Interval training is great and I like it much more than distance running. It is a fantastic cardio workout, can be done on a bike, is a great way to burn fat if needed and is a good way to change things up to add variety to your workouts.
When it finally snowed in Tahoe I switched my regiment to more specific activities. On Denali we will be traveling on skis and pulling a heavy sled along with carrying a pack. Fountain Place Road, one of Tahoe’s service roads offers a great “day one” simulation in that it rises 1500 feet over 4.5 miles (a little taller than base camp to camp one on Denali. In times of good snow coverage, I skinned up Fountain Place road, carrying my pack and pulling a sled. Once on top I could dump weight and ski down the road creating a realistic gear cache scenario and a shorter day out than just hiking. This not only allowed me to gain sport-specific strength and experience what working day to day will feel like, it also allowed me to test my gear and dial in my sled system. Again, I gradually added weight until I was able to carry a 65 lb pack and pull a 70 lb sled, hopefully 20 or more lbs beyond what I will haul on the mountain.
Brad hauling a combined 135 lbs of water on a long day out.
As the weather has turned warmer I have heard the climbing-sirens’ irresistible call and have spent more time on the rock, which is probably not the best choice but keeps me sane and physically strong. I have also hit the road more, putting in long rides on my cyclocross bike. With little lake level snow I have abandoned the sled and mainly run and ride for my cardio workouts, but I do so knowing I can now handle the weight and feel that if I hit the mountain tomorrow I am ready for the challenge. Tahoe has helped me prepare well.
Stay tuned to hear from Clay about how different training in Kansas can be!
Do you have an experience to share, a question or just a comment? Well then, please feel free to use the comments box below!
This article was reprinted with permission from Tahoe Mountain Sports.
Sometimes you just need a break and mountaineers know that the best rest days are active ones. This week Clayton and I separately hit the road to play in some iconic rock climbing destinations; I decided to hit the bouldering in Bishop, CA and Clay headed to go climbing in the Gunks. Although pebble pulling is not exactly specific to the task of climbing a big mountain like Denali, rock climbing is definitely good strength and endurance work. More importantly, a good trip away to get on some rock offers a physical change and an opportunity to mentally recharge for more mountain specific training.
So, in an effort to strengthen up, have some fun and send some person projects, I headed south to one of my favorite climbing destinations; Bishop, CA. I am happy to report that aside from some windy conditions and a short stint of rain the weather cooperated and some problems went down. I was also able to climb one day in Owens River Gorge which has some of my favorite sport climbing. Mostly though, I was excited to hang out with some old friends that came in from Arkansas and Oregon, as well as make some great new friends along the way.
For those of you who don’t know, 2 seasons ago I was hit by a car while riding my bike which effectively took me out of climbing for 2010. In 2011 I was able to start climbing again but because of all the off time last year was definitely a recovery and rebuilding season. This last trip confirmed that I am nearly back to the strength level that I was before the accident and I really can’t tell you how awesome that makes me feel. Upon coming back to Tahoe I definitely feel a renewed psyc for climbing and training. All in all, it was a great trip.
Clayton headed in about as opposite of a direction you can and spent a week in New York, enjoying climbing in the Gunks. Here is his report:
Clay and Ali enjoying climbing in the Gunks, NY.
New England Journey of the Vernal Equinox 2012
My latest adventure was into new terrain – both in New England and relationships. Exploration is something that has always driven and motivated me. Ranging from exploration of new lines and parts of the world, to the psychological delving into my deepest, quirkiest inner workings, new terrain has always had a draw for me. New England has never sparked interest in my desire to explore, but with the allure of a lovely lady and a plane ticket, different interests are easily ignited!
The week of the Spring Equinox was spent exploring a relationship that was sparked in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, fizzled in the Arkansas Valley and has been an ember in the Kaw Valley of Kansas for the past year. The ember was carried to New York then led to the Gunks near New Paltz, NY where it was stoked with confidence in the relationship and in climbing easy overhanging terrain.
From the funky horizontal placements and the pricy climbing of the Gunks, the spark was led through New Hampshire to the bouldering meca of Pawtuckaway. Not to be swayed by the swarms of pad people, the trusty trad rack was brought to a short cliff with an interesting population of top rope folks. There we re-discovered the fun of simply playing on the rock. No expectations on vertical, grades, number of routes, just simple fun! So that little ember was stoked up a bit more and started to glow brighter.
Ali and Clay hit the beach for a little Oceanside R & R.
The journey continued up to the hip town of Portland, Maine where an old friend was visited and new friends made. Some amazing basketball watched (Rock Chalk!), beautiful shore line explored, rocks skipped and light houses marveled at. The time spent in the car furthering my understanding of the countryside seemed to mirror my understanding of the amazing person whom I was sharing space. Or perhaps that is the other way around! I have always been cognizant on the way that the geophysical landscape shapes the people which inhabit it, and this adventure has helped me to understand the foreign New England states and the little fireballs who are created there.
Natural history museum shenanigans!
No journey to New England is complete without venturing into the heart of the beast – New York City. I was delightfully surprised with a day trip there! The marvelous public transit, Grand Central, culinary treats, people watching, and my favorite, the Natural History Museum. A glimpse of Times Square from the cab after seeing RENT was enough of the city for me. I am excited about continuing to explore the deeper realms of relationship and returning to explore more of what New England has to offer. Welcoming the return of the Light to the land for the Equinox was a treat to spend with someone special and in a new place. A delightful adventure! And a much appreciated bit of relaxation before our Adventure to Alaska.
Do you have an experience to share, a question or just a comment? Well then, please feel free to use the comments box below!