Blog: More Than A Summit

Mount Adams Trip Report

June 15th, 2018

Story Captured by Brett Banka

Our Peaks of Life team kicked-off the 2018 climbing season with our first successful summit of the year to the top of Mount Adams at 12,276’ on May 19-20th! We raised over $4,000 for the Seattle Children’s uncompensated care fund to support children and their families undergoing care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

This year’s Mount Adams team was comprised of an incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic group of climbers from all areas of the Pacific Northwest. The climb began with the rendezvous of all climbers at the South Climb trailhead at roughly 5,500’ elevation near the base of Mount Adams. Here our climbers arrived on this early Saturday morning after traveling from the surrounding areas of Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland to convene for this all-weekend expedition.

After completing all of our gear and equipment checks, we set off on snowshoes, skis and split boards at the first sight of snow. Snow levels began before the trailhead at around 5,000 feet. The trek began at a steady pace through the sparsely wooded, snow-covered trail amongst the charred remains of the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire. While aiming toward the Crescent Ridge route just below the Crescent Glacier, we captured our first glimpse on the summit through the dissipating cloud cover. After reaching the Crescent Ridge, we arrived to enjoy sweeping, unobstructed views of the South aspect of Mount Adams rising above. Just within sight, we viewed rocky outcroppings striated in the snowfield curiously named Lunch Counter, where we would be setting up camp for the night. As the climb endured, we were treated with patches of sunlight breaking through the mid-mountain cloud cover to capture views of the landscape of the Mount Adams Wilderness below.

After nearly 5 hours of steady snow travel and traversing up steeper and steeper sections of the snowfield, we arrived at the wide, expansive section of Lunch Counter at nearly 9,400’ to set up camp. Once finished setting up our tents and taking a much-needed break from the first leg of the trip, we gathered in a communal kitchen area crafted with a deceitfully spacious tent and comfortable snow benches to convene for a dinner of dehydrated delights.

Here, our team enjoyed the close confines and warmth of the ‘kitchen’ with multiple portable backpacking stoves burning at full force to melt snow to supply our drinking water for the remainder of the trip. While we consumed ample pre-prepared meals to refuel for the next day, our team enjoyed each other’s company and swapped summit stories of climbs past.

As the late May sun approached the horizon of the West shoulder of Mount Adams, the temperatures began to drop and a thick layer of cloud and fog began to engulf our camp creating an illusive dusk. With the diminishing weather and decreasing day light, we decided to wrap up dinner and take refuge to our tents. Although it was only 7PM at this time, we began to prepare for bed to get adequate rest for our alpine start in the morning at the early sunrise hour. It was perfect timing for bed, and not long after we climbed into our below zero’ rated sleeping bags, the soft sounds of snoring could be heard from our surrounding neighbors. Approaching 8PM, a breach of light hit our tents as if the sun had risen from thin air. Peeping out from the warm confines of our alpine shelters, we captured the makings of a breathtaking Mount Adams sunset.

Not long after sunset, we retreated back into our warm tents to capture some much-needed rest for summit day the following morning. At dawn break, we gathered with our gear to begin the reach for the summit. We set off from camp at roughly 5AM with crampons at our feet and ice axes in hand. We headed up the broad snowfield chasing the breaching sunrise at the horizon directly ahead. With the summit hidden just above the clouds, we began our steps upward and onward through the impenetrable mountain fog.

The team traveled at a steady pace gaining steeper elevation as the slopes pitched upwards toward Piker’s Peak at 11,657’. We followed the boot pack straight up the steepest section of the climb taking on a single file track.

We reached the false summit of Piker’s Peak and broke above the relentless cloud banks and captured our first sight of the summit.

With an initial dodgy weather report for the weekend, we were elated to lay eyes on the summit with clear blue skies above. We pushed on for our final stretch to the summit after a short break fueled by peanut butter M&M’s washed down with the remaining swigs of our snow melt water supply. We were headed for the top.

Our team reached the summit side-by-side and raised the Peaks of Life banner for a colorful pose of climbers, whom many had just met the day before and had become well acquainted climbing partners and friends by summits reach. On the summit, we enjoyed the sweeping views of the surrounding Cascades including Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier.

Brooke Jarvie, Managing Director of Peaks of Life, notes:

We made summit around 9:30 – our team crushed it and were an hour faster than we had budgeted for!

Mount Hood

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Rainier

A moment of congratulations was awarded to the team as we realized that we had embarked on this climb for “More than a summit” and raised over $4,000 for the Seattle Children’s uncompensated care fund to support health care for the patients and families receiving care at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Following the summit, we began our journeys back home toward camp via skis, splitboard, and glissade. After reaching the base of the mountain, we returned fulfilled with an extraordinary weekend of climbing, with an extraordinary group of climbers, all for an extraordinary cause.

United by a beautiful cause and love for the mountains, our team of climbers formed a unique bond on this trip. Matt Leaman, a Peaks of Life Climber on our Mount Adams trip comments on his blog:

I still do not know how or where I found the organization, but I was immediately inspired to apply for their Mount Adams climb in May. A few weeks later, my application was accepted, so it was time to raise some money and continue my training! It was pretty easy to raise the money, because people are super willing to give a little of their hard earned money to help pay for children's medical bills. It's too bad that we live in a world/country where families can go bankrupt, because their kid has a disease, and I was proud to help raise a little to help these families.

To read a trip report from Matt's perspective, please see his full blog entry “Climbing for a Cause” here!

Here's to Climbing for More Than A Summit!

SPECIAL THANKS to our blog guest author of the month, Brett Banka, who shares: "Being new to the Pacific Northwest, I was lucky to be introduced to Peaks of Life through a series of fortunate events and learn about their bold endeavor to support children and their families through the Seattle Children’s uncompensated health care initiative. Inspired to do more, it’s my aspiration to contribute to Peaks of Life in supporting their efforts to raise funds and spread awareness for this great cause. I’m thrilled to be a part of Peaks of Life in reach for More than a Summit!" You can find Brett on social media alongside his gorgeous photos of adventures in the Pacific Northwest at @brettbanka.


First Aid Kits

May 18th, 2018

When planning any outdoor adventure, a first aid kit is often considered one of the ten essentials. However, many people make the mistake of purchasing a first aid kit already stocked, stuffing it in the brain of their pack, and then never opening it. Many will also think that not having to use a first aid kit is a good sign – that means nobody got hurt! Yet, a first aid kit can and should be utilized regularly, and therefore requires time and thought to build one to meet personal needs.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a first aid kit from the store shelves already stocked, but building your own will allow for more specificity of your kit. Below are some tips and tricks to help you build your own first aid kit, but the most important tool in your kit is knowledgeIf you haven't already, consider taking a wilderness medicine course in order to better protect yourself and others in emergent (and non-emergent!) situations. Prepare for the unexpected and stay safe out there!

General First Aid Guidelines

Here are some other general thoughts on first aid kits before we categorize specific items you may wish to carry:

  • Specificity: Match the items in your kit to the trip needs. A rock climbing trip kit will look different than a ski mountaineering or day hike kit. Consider the terrain/conditions in which you’ll travel (snow vs. greenery), number of people you’re supplying (personal vs. group), and duration of the trip (single vs. multi-day). Though it’s hard to predict what may happen in the backcountry, the trip plan gives us valuable information on what we should be prepared for. For example, carrying altitude medication wouldn’t be helpful when climbing Mt. Si.
  • Restocking: It’s important to restock your first aid kit before every trip. Though an ‘off the counter’ premade first aid kit can work in the beginning, we recommend keeping items in bulk for easy restock before trips. (Plus, the bags that come with a first aid kit off the counter are usually quite awesome to use for a DIY one!)
  • Familiarity: Know where important items are located within your kit, and notify others where you keep it in your pack (especially if supplying for your group). Familiarization with the items in your first aid kit is critical! Don’t carry something you don’t know how to use – your level of knowledge and medical/first aid training should be a guide in what you specifically put in the kit.

First Aid Kit Items

First aid kits should be designed to meet an individual’s knowledge and needs. The group size, trip length, location, and remoteness of the trip will also shape what’s needed, but we will dive into this next. Of course, this complicates the process because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model for first aid kits. Below is a list of first aid kit items based on the types of supplies:

The Vessel

Choosing how you carry your first aid kit items will depend on preference and the trip. If traveling somewhere with plenty of water (so, anywhere in the Pacific Northwest!), make sure your kit is waterproof. You may consider packing in waterproof zip-top bags, dry bags, or even dry cases if water is a more serious concern (i.e. pack rafting trip). Also think about weight and organization. Do you want a nylon clamshell with organized pouches and see-through dividers (so much room for organization! How fun!), or do you prefer a military-grade pouch? Use what works best for you and the way you travel in the backcountry.


Athletic tape is one of the most frequently used first aid items for injuries and non-injuries. It can be used for wound care, bracing for sprains/strains, and more! Everyone should have a roll of it in their kit.

  • Athletic tape, 1”
Bandaging Materials

Minor cuts and lacerations are one of the most common injuries in the outdoors. Keeping the injury clean to avoid infection, and having materials to manage bleeding are critical.

Wound Care
Blister Care

Unfortunately, blisters happen. If you’re prone to blisters, it’s a good idea to use some materials for prevention on ‘hot spots’ where you’ve gotten a blister in the past. Also bring materials for if unforeseen blisters pop up.

  • 2nd Skin: can also be used for burns (these blister pads are also awesome)
  • Moleskin
  • Foam relief pads
  • Whatever works for you! Note that duct tape is not recommended on open blisters.
Musculoskeletal Injuries

Sprains, strains, and muscular injuries are very common in the backcountry. Additionally, splinting materials may be required for more serious injuries such as fractures.

  • Cravat/triangular bandage: makes a perfect arm sling, and are multi-functional
  • Kinesiotape
  • ACE wrap
  • Elastic bandage with Velcro closure
  • SAM splint 

Often called the ABC’s in emergency response, these are materials for urgent conditions that involve: Airway, Breathing, Circulation.

  • Gloves: non-latex, Nitrile protective gloves
  • CPR rescue mask or breathing barrier
  • Tampons without applicator: perfect for nose bleeds, and better than Q-tips
  • Israeli emergency bandage: for arterial bleeds
  • Tourniquet: if bleeding cannot be controlled (I like the one in this link because it has a spot to write the time it was placed!)
  • Stethoscope and Blood Pressure Cuff: for lung sounds and blood pressure, which can be more information than needed, but helpful in diagnostics 

Make sure all medications are clearly labeled. It is not advised to mix medications in a container because of confusion with different pill colors/shapes, and medication allergies. Small pill bottles are light and can’t be misinterpreted.

  • Personal prescription medications (i.e. asthma inhaler)
  • Tylenol/Acetaminophen (500mg tablets)
  • Ibuprofen/Advil (200mg tablets)
  • Aspirin (325mg)
  • Epi Pen: personal, or if you’re trained to carry one, you can ask your PCP
  • Stool softener
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Eye drops
  • Antacid/Tums
  • Oral glucose gel: honey packets work great
  • Hydrocortisone: topical corticosteroid
  • Antiemetic: for nausea, vomiting, motion sickness
  • Antihistamine: such as Benadryl for allergic reactions
  • Diphenhydramine hydrochloride/Claritin
  • Azithromycin/Z-pack: for bacterial infections; requires PCP prescription/rx
  • Dexamethasone (2mg tablets): to treat active altitude sickness; requires rx
  • Acetazolamide/Diamox (250mg tablets): when traveling to altitude; requires rx
  • Trauma/EMT shears
  • Tweezers: get a good pair that are sharp and pointy!
  • Knife
  • Thermometer
  • Hypothermia thermometer (if traveling in cold climates)
Personal Care Items

The following emergency essentials may be carried separately from a first aid kit, but are important for most trips.

  • Lighter
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Insect repellent (depending on time of year)
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip sunscreen/lip balm
  • Knife
  • Baby wipes
  • Body powder: can save you from trench foot and chaffing
  • Toilet paper
Emergency Items
  • Gear repair kits (i.e. sleeping pad repair, tent pole repair)
  • Duct tape
  • Tenacious tape
  • Paracord
  • Space blanket/emergency blanket
  • Spare batteries: AA and/or AAA based on what batteries are required
  • Cell phone or satellite radio 
  • Paper and pencil
  • Information booklet on First Aid
  • Prescription drug information
  • Verbal SOAP note reference (for a radio report/calling for help – see below)

First Aid Kit Organization

Packing your first aid kit requires thought in effort to protect valuable equipment and make access to emergency items fast and easy. A list of contents of the pack should be outlined somewhere in your first aid kit (with the items’ intended uses). All items should be clearly labeled and divided into appropriate subsections. You can organize your kit based on the types of supplies (as outlined above) or urgency. If choosing to organize based on urgency, use the three stages of emergency response as your guide:

  1. Stage One is stabilization of ABCD. A problem with Airway, Breathing, Circulation, or “Da Brain” must be addressed and stabilized before intervening with other conditions. Stage One includes items such as a CPR mask, Epi Pen, and emergency bandage.
  2. Stage Two is diagnostics for less urgent conditions. This includes a stethoscope, BP cuff, thermometer, notebook/pencil, trauma shears, thermometer, etc.
  3. Stage Three is intervention for the less urgent conditions. Once ABCD has been stabilized (or is being properly monitored), responders can put attention to other problems requiring intervention.

Sample Personal First Aid Kit

For a one-person first aid kit, the following contents should be comprehensive enough to deal with most emergent conditions. Click on each title below to see recommended items for a personal single and multi-day trip first aid kit.

  • 1 roll Athletic tape
  • 8-10 Adhesive bandages (varied shapes/sizes)
  • 1 ACE bandage
  • 2 4x4 gauze pads
  • 2 2x2 gauze pads
  • 1 Roller gauze
  • Blister care
  • Alcohol/Iodine swabs
  • Tylenol/Ibuprofen
  • Nitrile gloves (optional)
  • CPR mask/breathing barrier
  • Tweezers
  • Personal items: sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bug spray, knife, prescription medications

ADD the following items to the single-day list:

  • More wound dressings
  • More blister care
  • More ACE wraps (2)
  • Irrigating syringe
  • Topical antibiotic
  • Steri-Strips
  • Tincture of benzoin
  • Trauma shears
  • Triangular bandage
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Antiemetic medication
  • Claritin and Benadryl
  • Antacid medication
  • Thermometer
  • Appropriate personal and emergency items (depending on trip plan/location)

 Peaks of Life First Aid Kit


Peaks of Life takes first aid and safety seriously. In higher altitude terrain and more remote locations, there is potential for longer term care. Additionally, preventative care is important, especially during longer expeditions. On every climb this year, we will carry a variety of first aid kits: smaller kits for rope leads, and one "guide" kit for the trip leader. Below is our list of materials we'll be carrying to ensure safety of trip leaders and our climbers. Please note that we still encourage our climbers to bring their own first aid kits to ensure all personal needs are met! The bolded items below will ONLY be in the trip leaders' first aid kit.

1 3M Littmann Lightweight II S.E. Stethoscope, Black
1 Economy Blood Pressure Cuff, Adult
1 Pulse Oximeter
1 Trauma Shears
1 Plain Splinter Forceps, Straight, Pointed Tip, 3.5"
1 Precision Xtra Blood Glucose & Ketone Meter
10 Lancets
1 Precision Xtra Blood Glucose & Ketone Strips, BX/50
1 Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Small, PR/2
2 Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Medium, PR/2
2 Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Large, PR/2
1 Ammex Nitrile Gloves, X-Large, PR/2
2 Biohazard Bag 10 Gallon
1 Purell Hand Sanitizer, w/ Aloe, 2oz
2 Triangular Bandage, 36"x36"x51"
2 Medi-Pak Elastic Bandage, W/ Velcro, 4''x5yd, Latex Free
2 SAM Splint, 36", Roll, Orange/Blue
1 SAM Finger Splint, Orange/Blue
2 Emergency Blanket
1 CPR Barrier
5 E-Z Lubricating Jelly, 3g, Foil Packet, Water Soluble
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 50 mm, Size 0, Blue
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 60 mm, Size 1, Black
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 70 mm, Size 2, White
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 80 mm, Size 3, Green
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 90 mm, Size 4, Yellow
1 Color Coded Guedel Airway, 100 mm, Size 5, Red
1 Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 22 Fr
1 Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 26 Fr
1 Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 30 Fr
1 Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 34 Fr
2 HALO Chest Seal, PK/2
1 Combat Medic Reinforcement Duct Tape, Roll
1 Epinephrine Auto-Injector, 0.3mg, PK/2
1 Nitrostat, 0.4mg, BTL/25, Sublingual TAB
1 Ondansetron, Orally Disintegrating, 8mg, BX/10, UD TAB
1 Ventolin HFA, Metered, 90mcg, 60 Dose
1 Insta-Glucose, 31g Tube
1 Aspirin, 81mg, BT/36, Orange Flavor, CHW TAB
12 Gauze Sponge, 4"x4", PK/2, 12 Ply, Sterile
4 Abdominal Combine Pad, 5" x 9", Sterile
3 Stretch Gauze Bandage Roll 3", Sterile
1 QuikClot Combat Gauze LE, 3"x4 yds, Z-Fold
1 Israeli Emergency Bandage, 4"
1 Syringe, 60mL, Luer-Lok
1 Saf-Shield Irrigation Splash Shield
1 Double Antibiotic Ointment, 1 oz., ONT
3 Stretch Gauze Bandage Roll 3", Sterile
1 Krinkle Gauze Roll, 4.5" x 4.1yds, Sterile
1 Athletic Tape 1" x 10'
1 Adhesive Bandages, Assorted Sizes, BX/60
3 Non-Adherent Pad, Sterile, 3"x4"
2 Blist-O-Ban Blister Bandage
2 Petrolatum Gauze Strip, 3'' x 18"
2 Wound Closure Strips, .125"x3", PK/5
2 Benzoin Tincture Ampule
5 Extra Strength Acetaminophen, APAP, 500mg, UD
5 Ibuprofen, 200mg, PK/2 UD
5 Antacid Tablet, 420mg, UD TAB
5 Electrolyte Replacement, UD TAB
5 Loperamide HCl, 2mg, CAP UD
5 Meclizine HCl, 25mg, TAB UD
5 Loratadine, 10mg
5 Diphenhydramine HCl, 25mg, UD TAB
5 Phenylephrine HCl, 5mg
5 Cough Drops, Menthol Cherry, 7.6mg
1 Oxymetazoline HCI, 0.05%, 15ml, Nasal Spray
1 Lubricating Eye Drops 0.05%, 0.5oz, DRP
5 Tampon Tampax Regular Absorbency
1 Hydrocortisone Ointment 1%, 1 oz
2 Cotton tipped applicators
6 Providone Iodine
2 Knuckle bandages
20 Acetazolamide 250mg
20 Dexamethasone 2mg tablets



Knowledge is power when it comes to safety in the mountains. One of the best tools you can bring with you to the mountains is knowledge, and there are many opportunities for continuing education in first aid and emergency response. Check out your local resources for a CPR, Wilderness First Aid (WFA), Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and other remote/emergency response courses! Below are some recommended accrediting

Here’s to Climbing for More Than A Summit!

*Please note Peaks of Life does not benefit from you clicking any of the above links to purchase at REI, Amazon, or NOLS. The links are purely for your shopping convenience so you can start building your first aid kit immediately.

**Knowing your own body’s needs are imperative to maintaining safety in all situations. Please consult with your Primary Care Physician for any questions or concerns regarding your own mountain health.

***Most importantly: Stay safe out there, everyone!


Training for Mountain Goals

April 23rd, 2018

What’s that gaseous ball in the sky that blinds our eye? I’m feeling excited and I don’t know why! Oh wait, I think know the reason – it’s a glorious change in seasons!

Alas, the weather in the Pacific Northwest is starting to change! We’re beginning to see glimmers of the sun, and it’s time to dust off our sunscreen bottles. Since we all have unique mountain goals, we will all find different reasons to get outside this year. If you’re reading this article, you likely have certain objectives in mind. From summiting Rainier to alpine routes in the North Cascades, mountaineering and alpine climbing requires certain levels of knowledge and preparation to minimize our risk of injury, and maximize the chance of successful summits!

With the upcoming Spring and Summer seasons of outdoor adventures, there’s a lot to we can do to prepare our bodies for the physical and mental stresses of climbing. Training can certainly feel like a daunting task. How can we find the time in our busy life to train for our goals? What’s the optimal way to prepare for our goals? Here, we share some information to begin implementing a training program immediately! It’s time to take advantage of your motivation, tighten your boots, and start training for all your goals – big and small!

In this post, we focus on training methodology for mountaineering and alpine climbing based on the book by Steve House and Scott Johnston:  Training for the New Alpinism.

Physiology 101

Understanding basic human physiology sets the framework for training programs (and I promise to keep the nerd talk at a relative minimum here). Basically, climbing requires muscles to contract, and muscles require energy to do so. Where we get this energy from depends on the amount of power needed and duration of the activity.

Metabolism refers to the chemical process that creates energy for muscular contractions. This can be produced with oxygen (aerobic) or without oxygen (anaerobic). These two processes allow for different output of power and strength:

  • Aerobic: moderate power output, long duration
  • Anaerobic: maximum power output, short duration

Energy is delivered to muscles in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is metabolized in the ways listed above. Our aerobic work capacity depends on the rate at which our working muscles can produce ATP, which acts as gasoline to cellular energy. Aerobically, ATP is produced via the Krebs Cycle in mitochondria. This is a slow process with high yield (38 molecules of ATP per cycle!), so the amount of power that can be produced is limited. In contrast, ATP can be produced without oxygen via glycolysis. This happens outside of the mitochondria, and a byproduct is lactate. As lactate increases, it begins leaking into the blood and overall, the body decreases pH and becomes more acidic. This is where the phrase “lactic acid” buildup comes from. This gives us short bursts of energy when higher power level is required.

Basically, our mission is to produce more power with decrease reliance on glycolysis because glycolysis unsustainable for long periods of time. We can do this by increasing ATP production aerobically via increasing mitochondrial mass, aerobic enzymes, and capillary bed density. In order to do this, the best stimulus is increasing the duration and frequency of the training load, NOT intensity. Now that we can understand that at a basic level, how do we apply these principles to training?

There's more biological reasons for the above, and if you’re interested in learning more, please refer to Training for the New Alpinism, or ask below! We will try to answer your questions to the best of our ability.

Training Principles

Okay, now that we got some terminology and fun nerdy facts out of the way, let’s crack down on training! There’s two basic types of training:

  1. General conditioning that readies you for event-specific training.
  2. Training that prepares you in a specific way for the event itself.

The “event” is the goal—be it mountaineering, alpine climbing, ski mountaineering, or rock climbing. Thus, having a specific goal in mind is necessary when developing a training program. (Need a goal to work towards? Check out Peaks of Life upcoming climbs on our event page!)

The Training Effect

Our bodies respond to whatever stress we put into it. When we apply physical stress in our training constructively, consistently, and progressively, we set ourselves up for success. Since our bodies naturally want to be in homeostasis (biological state of equilibrium), we respond to stress via recovery. When a training effect cycle of stress/recovery is timed correctly, we actually end up with supercompensation, where our body overcompensates by ending at a higher fitness level than before the physical stress was applied. The human body is pretty neat, huh?

One of the most important points here is the need for recovery. Without proper recovery between sessions, we are at risk for overtraining and overuse (and, therefore, injury). We must remember that training makes us weaker, and recovery makes us STRONGER. Watch out for these three signs that indicate you didn’t recover well!

Guiding Principles

The three guiding principles to training are:

Continuity, Gradualness, and Modulation


Maintain a regular schedule with little interruption. If you miss a week in training because of unforeseen or planned circumstances, you must pick up where you left off, in order to allow your body to adapt to each stage in training. Otherwise, injury or setbacks can happen.


It’s important to progress the stress we put on our bodies at an appropriate rate. Beginners will progress slightly faster than elite athletes because they are further from their ultimate potential fitness.


This is the “undulating level of training stimulus that allows your body a chance to recover its homeostasis.” If we train too hard, we can't recover. Additionally, as we begin to adapt to one stress level, we will need to modulate our activities to allow for continuous progression. Each stage of added stress (training load) typically lasts 3 to 6 weeks.

Assessing Fitness Level

General fitness is important for a variety of objectives. Measure your base and your progress using the following exercises:

  • Timed 1,000-foot (305-meter) vertical ascent on steep second- to third-class terrain carrying a pack weighing 20% of body weight. This should be somewhere local to return to for a retest. Alternatively, you can do a timed box step with same weight (20% body weight) to reach 1,000 vertical feet (305 meters) – box should be 75% the height of your shin (tibia), usually 8-12 inches high.
  • 60-second test for maximum repetitions of the following exercises:
    • Dips
    • Sit-ups
    • Pull-ups
    • Box step-ups
    • Push-ups

Listen to Your Heart

Though not necessary to monitor during training, heart rate is an excellent tool to monitor intensity of our training sessions. By measuring heart rate, we can quantify the effort we are putting into our training. Each zone of heart rates is based on our maximum heart rate, which is typically measured by 220 minus age, but this has proven to be inaccurate for most individuals. Instead, a “max test” can be used:

Make sure you’re well-rested, motivated, and healthy. Gradually warm-up for 15 minutes and work progressively harder. The last 2-3 minutes should be spent breathing and sweating moderately. Without resting, run hard for 2 minutes up a hill with incline steep enough to still allow you to run (6-10%). In the last 20 seconds, run as hard as you can to the level of complete exhaustion. If you collapse at the end, you likely have elicited maximum cardiac response! After the 2 minutes, check your heart rate as it should be within 5 beats of your maximum.

Heart Rate Zones

Zone 1 is “Basic Endurance” (55-75% max HR), and the zone in which we spend most of our time in the mountains. It’s important to recognize that training at a higher intensity does not always increase aerobic capacity. Rather, longer duration at lower intensity may offer higher benefits. The easiest way to determine if you’re in Zone 1 is your breathing. If you start mouth breathing, you’re likely out of it already! As your aerobic capacity increases, you’ll be able to go faster and higher while still maintaining your heart rate in Zone 1.

Generally, Zone 2 is “No Man’s Land” as it’s too hard to be easy, and doesn’t offer the benefits of higher intensity training. Zone 3 is “Uppermost Aerobic Training,” and is described as a fun kind of hard. This should be a pace that could be maintained for an hour, and the upper limits of Zone 3 are often named the Anaerobic Threshold or Lactate Threshold. Zone 4 is the “Anaerobic Zone” where our bodies can no longer rely on oxygen for fuel. Typically, Zone 4 can be maintained for a few minutes, and training at this level doesn’t yield significant gains for mountain fitness. The “Maximum Effort” in Zone 5 can only be sustained for 10-15 seconds, and plays a role in overcoming a climbing route’s crux and building strength, power, and power endurance in muscle groups used to go uphill.

Strength Training

It’s important to target maximum strength and strength endurance for climbing. Even though we don’t usually tap into our maximum strength during climbs, having our muscles ready to work is critical – especially when it comes to more powerful moves for our upper body, and steeper sections for our lower body. With maximum strength, the aim is to increase the number of muscle fibers recruited for movements. Muscular endurance will allow for these fibers to work over longer periods of time. Below are some exercises to get you started on a strength routine for the upper and lower body. These types of exercises are typically performed with either maximum resistance (for maximum strength) or maximum repetitions while maintaining good form and no muscle shaking (for muscle endurance).

Read more of the theory behind "Mountain Strong" strength training by Scott Johnson: Part 1 | Part 2  | Part 3


Upper Body

  • Push-ups
    • Important to keep the elbows tucked in with push-ups! Of course, there’s other variations with arms wide, but by keeping the hands directly under the shoulders and elbows tucked in, you work different muscles. Rather than lowering to your knees as you fatigue, try raising your upper body by placing your hands on a bench or a box for more repetitions.
  • Dips
    • Start with box dips, then you can progress to handlebar dips.
  • Pull-ups
    • Obviously this is your favorite exercise, and everyone LOVES pull-ups, almost as much as burps! (Okay, maybe not.) Check out some tips for good pull-up technique here.
    • Can’t do one? No fear! Start training by eccentric control (slowly lowering). Don’t use resistance bands to help with the pull-up motion, because this stops the most important portion of the pull-up. Rather, start hanging on the bar and engage shoulder blades, then either use a box to step yourself up to chin over the bar or jump up, and lower down to fully straight elbows as slow as possible! Do 3 in a row if you can’t do one single pull-up.
  • Scotty Bob’s
    • A push and pull combination movement! Start by doing three in a row, then you can progress to more. See the how-to here.
  • Endurance: Rock Climbing
    • At the rock gym, the goal is to put on as much vertical as possible for muscular endurance training. Climbing up and down routes about 2 grades below your maximum level, and pay attention to heart rate while climbing, too! Try to stay in Zone 1, but you'll notice how your heart races as you reach the crux or harder moves.
    • Another idea as you progress is to wear a pack while climbing (never exceed 20% body weight unless you have really good finger strength background).

Lower Body

  • Box Step-ups
    • Targets uphill muscles
    • Make it harder by increasing the height of the box or holding weight
    • Believe it or not, the stair stepper doesn’t simulate the act of walking uphill too well because the step is actually falling away from you. Stick to hill climbing or box step-ups for more specific muscle training.
  • Squats
  • Poor Man’s Leg Curl is a great way to target the hamstrings, which are essential especially for control on downhill portions.
  • Endurance: challenge your lactate threshold with Mini Leg Blastersthe Quadzilla Complex, or Leg Lactate Complex.
  • Endurance: Hiking with weight
    • The point is to have the rate of climbing limited by your leg muscles, NOT breathing (pay attention to maintaining nose breathing, Heart Rate Zone 1!). Progress percentage of body weight in your pack and vertical distance covered by starting with about 50% of your goal’s vertical and 0-50% the weight you’ll carry in your pack.
    • Hint: a gallon of water is 8 pounds; one quart is 2 pounds.

Core Muscles

Last but certainly not least! Scott Johnson presents his “Killer Core Routine” here. Why even train the core in the first place, you ask?

  1. All athletic movements originate with the core musculature.
  2. Your core connects your arms to your legs.
  3. A weak core results in less effective use of your arms and legs.
  4. A weak core exposes you to injury.
  5. Strength in the core will become the foundation for all your endurance.

Climbing-Specific Training

Peaks of Life Guide to Rainier

So, you want to climb Rainier? Climbers on the Peaks of Life team have developed a progressive plan to build an appropriate level of fitness for the elevation gains of Rainier. Below is the three-month plan developed by our team:

  • Month 1:
    • Week 1: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 2: Hike with >5 miles <2k vertical feet carry 15lbs
    • Week 3: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 4: Hike with <10 miles >2k vertical feet carry 15lbs
  • Month 2:
    • Week 5: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 6: Hike with >10 miles <2k vertical feet carry 25 lbs & 3 hrs cardio
    • Week 7: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 8: Hike with <10 miles >2k vertical feet carry 25 lbs & 3 hrs cardio

By this time, you should be able to run 10 miles or hike 20 miles in a single day. If you are not there yet, it is time to step up the intensity of your cardio training for the next two weeks.

  • Month 3:
    • Week 9: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 10: Hike with >10 miles <2k vertical feet carry 35 lbs & 3 hrs cardio

By this point it is VERY important that you are able to run 10 miles or hike 20 miles in a single day.

    • Week 11: cardio - 5 hours cardio training
    • Week 12: Hike with <10 miles >2k vertical feet carry 35 lbs & 3 hrs cardio 

Other Considerations to Training
Training for Mental Fitness

This is “the most difficult 80%” of training, and is critical to mention before closing.

Motivation is will, and will has two parts: power and purpose. Without power, your purpose cannot be realized. Without purpose, your power will be diffused and will become impotent.

Firstly, recognize the why behind your climbing – what motivated you to start? You may have to dive deep for this, searching to where it all began and how you felt when you first started climbing. Then, start observing your thoughts and emotions that arise as you climb. Recognize that thoughts create emotions, which can be translated into bodily sensations, such as thinking “I feel so tired,” or “This is so hard,” while slogging up a seemingly never-ending hill (false summits, anyone?). Often times, these thoughts and emotional states are more wearing on the body than the physical stress itself.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.
- Buddha

Taking into account our fears, especially the fear of failure is also important. Failing and failing well is critical to our development as climbers, and often times we impose self-doubt on top of this fear of failing. In training, we sometimes need to surround ourselves by a non-judgmental group in order to feel comfortable with the idea of failing, therefore leading to more confidence. When we set goals, we are afraid we won’t rise to our own expectations. However, we don’t often succeed at our first go. Did Margo Hayes send La Rumba on her first attempt? No, but that didn’t stop her from failing time after time, then again rising to the challenge day after day…

We all have natural biases and subconscious roots to our emotions, and we all have the ability to rise above our self-imposed limitations. Build confidence via skill and practice, find fulfillment in what you set out to do, and stay concentrated – both on your goals and in every moment you spend climbing.

Imagine your goals, and start executing a plan to achieve them. Your success begins with you, and it begins today. Climb on!

Here’s to Climbing for More Than A Summit!


House, S. and Johnston, S. (2014). Training for the New Alpinism. 1st ed. Ventura, California: Patagonia Books.


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About Our Blog

Peaks of Life climbs for 'more than a summit.' On our blog, we represent the children and families we serve at Seattle Children's Hospital, while providing valuable information for our dedicated climbers and volunteers.

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