Preparation for Alpine Ascents 3-Day Mount Rainier Climbs
The training statement below is a guide and we’ve posted it to help you prepare for your upcoming trip. While we realize climbers ascend a mountain at different speeds, the ascent rates posted in this document are not only guidelines/expectations for ascending the mountain, but also meant as a guide to help climbers be as prepared and safe as possible. It is a matter of safety that climbers ascend at the rate stated below.
Prolonged hours on the ascent can greatly affect the health of all climbers. When ascent rates are too slow, climbers can become fatigued, dehydrated, and have a greater chance of getting cold. We must also consider the rapidly changing weather on Rainier.
AT A MINIMUM
You must be able to reach Camp Muir from the Paradise parking lot in five hours (this includes one hour of break time). Please note this time may be shortened depending on weather conditions.
AT A MINIMUM
You must be able to reach the summit of Rainier from High Camp in five hours (depending on route).
In short, one must expect to carry at least a 40-lb. pack with a rate ascension of 4,500 feet of gain in about four to five hours (approximately 1,000 feet per hour). Climbers who cannot travel at this relatively moderate rate of ascent will have a dialogue with the guide staff about the possibility of returning to the trailhead (Day 1 of the climb) or High Camp (summit day). In most cases, the discussion is initiated by the climber or mutually with the guide. On occasion, guides will ask climbers to start to descend if the guide feels that continuing upward may affect the safety of the group or individual.
Climbing Mt. Rainier is a serious undertaking. Just because you exercise regularly (four to six times per week) does not mean you have the conditioning needed to climb Mt Rainier. Plenty of people who can run a marathon fail to summit Rainier. Pure cardiovascular fitness is simply not enough. You need to be able to ascend 9,000-10,000 feet with substantial weight on your back. Expect to carry at least a 40-lb. pack or more to get to Base Camp, a trip that requires over 4,500 feet of gain in about five hours. The ascent to the summit, which is comparable in elevation gain to the approach, involves carrying a pack weight of about half that of your approach pack.
Prioritize your training efforts in the following way:
- Climbing conditioning– pack-loaded uphill hiking, walking, and stair climbing
- Strength training – for the lower body and core
- Cardiovascular training – including both aerobic and anaerobic workouts without pack weight
- Flexibility training
Most people will need to train specifically for Mt. Rainier for at least four to six months. During your training, you will need to progressively ramp up your pack weight, time, distance, and elevation gain (at roughly 10% per week) to safely and effectively build your climbing-specific conditioning. Trying to rush this will increase the risk of experiencing some sort of training injury and not being ready for the climb. In the tabs “Conditioning” and “Putting it all together” above you will find more information on how to incorporate these four priorities into your program.
Hike steep outdoor trails, gradually increasing your pack weight with each outing until you are at your target climb pack weight. If you live where it is relatively flat, go up and down stairs or train on an inclined treadmill or StairMaster. Use whatever varied surface terrain (i.e., gravel beds, sand dunes, river banks) you have access to. A reasonable goal would be to ascend approximately 3,000 feet carrying an average pack of 50 lbs. in a two hour period, or roughly 1,500 vertical feet in an hour. A good training option for simulating pack weight is to carry water in gallon containers or collapsible jugs, then you can dump water at the top as needed to lighten the load for the descent.
One training technique that is useful for altitude climbing is to include higher intensity interval training in your weekly program. To do this, find a steep hill or sets of stairs that will allow you to climb steadily for several minutes. Push as hard as you can going up, then recover coming down, and repeat for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on how close to your climb you are. Add weight to your pack on a regular basis, no more than 10% per week, until you can carry your target climb pack weight the entire time.
In early season, you might start with a hike that gains up to 1,500-2,000′ feet of elevation over 6 miles round-trip and carry a 15-20-lb. pack; each hike try adding two to three pounds until you are comfortable with a 40-lb. pack, then begin increasing the total elevation gain and mileage. When you can gain 3,500 feet with a 40-lb. pack, start decreasing rest breaks and increasing speed, and once you reach your target time, add the final weight until you can carry your target climb pack weight for the desired elevation gain and mileage.
Be sure to include at least 5–10 minutes of targeted stretching following every workout, specifically for the hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, lower back, and quadriceps. If you have any areas of concern in the early season, add emphases as needed to making sure you have normal range of motion about all your joints. This will become even more important as you add weight and distance to your conditioners.
Training with free weights, bands, a backpack, bodyweight, or gym machines will help you build overall strength, particularly in the core (lower back and abdominals), upper back and shoulders, and legs. Developing strength in your upper back and shoulders will help you with such tasks as carrying a heavy pack and using trekking poles and ice axes effectively. The calves, hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes are all involved in ascending and descending glacier, ice, and rock routes, and strength endurance is required in all areas of the legs and hips.
Training primarily with free weights will give you the functional, climbing-specific strength that will help you most in the mountains. Free-weight-training requires that you balance the weights as you would your own body, weighted with a pack, in three-dimensional space. When starting any strength conditioning program, complete two full-body strength workouts a week for 30–45 minutes each, focusing on compound exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, dips, pull-ups, rows, dead lifts, bench presses, pushups, and overhead presses.
In the beginning phase of strength conditioning, focus on building a foundation for harder workouts; to that end, keep the weight light enough to concentrate on good form and complete two sets of each exercise for 8-10 repetitions. As you continue to train, you will shift focus to building strength (generally five to eight reps with heavier weight). Four to six weeks before your climb, shift your training to focus on strength endurance (10-15 reps with light weight) to turn the newly gained strength into greater strength endurance. Each training phase should vary the weight used, repetitions completed, number of sets, and rest intervals. Regardless of training phase, always be sure you maintain proper form in order to prevent injury or strain.
Include spinal-loading aerobic training options such as jogging, walking on an inclined treadmill, stair-stepping or stair mill training, trail running, working on an elliptical machine, walking up and down hills, or participating in step aerobic classes. While biking, rowing, and swimming are aerobic options for the earliest stages of training, be sure, as you get closer to your climb, that you include activities suggested above that load the spine and legs the same way that hiking will.
When first beginning a cardiovascular training program, begin with three or four workouts of 30-45 minutes of sustained activity at a moderate intensity, and build to four to five aerobic sessions of sustained effort for at least 45-60 minutes. Be sure to include a 5-10 minute gentle warm-up before working at your target heart rate for the day (for most workouts, choose a level of exertion that allows you to connect a few words together in a phrase, but leaves you feeling comfortably tired at the end of the workout), and cool down with 5-10 minutes of appropriate stretching of the muscles you use most in your activity, including lower back, calves, hamstrings, hips, and quadriceps.
Putting it all together
Roughly a month before your climb, you should be at the conditioning level where you are comfortable hiking on consecutive weekend days, what is referred to as “back-to-back” training. This involves hiking with your target climb pack weight (40-50 lbs.) on the first day for at least 4,000 – 5,000 feet gain, and a somewhat lighter pack for greater mileage on the second day in order to simulate your approach and summit days of your climb.
This will not only be helpful physically but also prepare you psychologically for the challenge of repeat high-effort days without any recovery days in between. A sample week of training a month prior to your climb might look like the chart to the right, in an effort to help you build as much stamina as possible.
Be sure to include at least one recovery day per week and listen closely to your body. Take the final week to taper or gradually reduce intensity and volume of training so that by the time you leave for your climb you are well rested and physically and psychologically up to the challenge.
You can find additional training resources at BodyResults.com:
- Training articles
- Training books and DVDs
- Customized online mountaineering specific training
Special discounts are available for Alpine Ascents customers at: www.BodyResults.com/aai
This training information was provided by wilderness sports conditioning experts Courtenay and Doug Schurman of BodyResults.com. They are the exclusive conditioning resource for Alpine Ascents. They oversee all client training, are co-authors of the book, “The Outdoor Athlete” (2009) and are creators of the “Train to Climb Mt Rainier” DVD.
This training information was provided by BodyResults.com. To access more mountaineering-specific training articles, get a customized training program, or purchase training products please visit www.BodyResults.com or email trainer@BodyResults.com. Special discounts for Alpine Ascents climbers can be found at www.BodyResults.com/aai
This is an extremely rigorous climb and being in strong physical condition is mandatory. Please note, the guide retains the right, at any point, to determine whether a climber is sufficiently fit to continue the climb.
Full body, 12-15 reps per set, 45 min.
30 min., recovery level (<65% Max HR).
10-15 min. at the end
Hills, stairs, or high-incline treadmill, 45-60 min, 40-50 lb. pack (short bursts >85% Max HR)
Full body, 12-15 reps per set, 1 hour.
10-15 min. at the end
75 min., no pack, distance level (65-75% Max HR)
10-15 min. at the end
Full body, 8-10 reps per set, 45 min.
45 min., no pack, tempo level (75-85% Max HR)
10-15 min. at the end
Hike 8-10 miles, 40-50 lb pack, gain 4-5,000 ft.
As needed to prevent stiffness
Hike 8-10 miles, 25-lb. pack, gain 4-5,000 ft.
As needed to prevent stiffness
This was a great climb. The guides were very helpful, particularly Travis. Having been unsuccessful on my last Rainier climb, I really wanted to make it this time and I did. My guides were very good at explaining what was coming up and how to prepare.