Sunday, June 16, 2013

Squamish: Endless Slabs and Perfect Splitters

Caitlin and I were headed up to B.C. to visit family and we had a few extra days so we checked out the climbing in Squamish for the first time. Our friend Chris was able to join us up there as well, and actually drove up a couple days early to climb the Grand Wall. Which he did, although he made it sound like a struggle. This made us decide to ease into the grades and we started with Skywalker (5 pitch, 5.8) at Shannon Falls. It rained on us during the first two pitches and this made the 5.7/5.8 slab fairly challenging and scary. After that the sun came out and the low angle climbing on perfect granite blew all our expectations out of the water.

Looking down from the top of pitch 2 on Skywalker. Wet slabs are fun!

Caitlin belays Chris up pitch 2.

Chris, up around the corner, leading pitch 3.

Anchor bolts at the top of pitch 3, right before the Skywalker Traverse on pitch 4.

Chris comes around the corner on the Skywalker Traverse.

After Skywalker we climbed Klahanie Crack (5.7), a perfect splitter hand crack in blank slab surrounded by 5.11 sport routes that consist of being able to smear your way up a tilted parking lot of lichen speckled granite (not really what I call fun). We climbed some 10a slab-crack which felt pretty easy and TRed one of these 5.11s which was an exercise in frustration with my floppy multi-pitch shoes. So ended day one, it was light out so late that we cooked dinner at 9:30 and were convinced it was 7.

Me leading Klahanie Crack (photo by Caitlin).

Yes, this is only 5.7, sustained 5.7, but still just 5.7 (photo by Caitlin).

Almost there on the Klahanie Crack (photo by Caitlin).

On day two we went to the Apron. Our first choice was Diedre (6 pitch, 5.8) which is supposedly the most popular route at Squamish. There was practically no one on it. The three of us flew up the route, our rope system already dialed from the day before. We went car-to-car in about 4 hours, including stopping for lunch at the top of the route.

Caitlin follows the polished slab on pitch 1 of Diedre.

Caitlin and Chris following pitch 3.

Caitlin follows pitch 4 on the endless slab dihedral.

Caitlin and Chris prepare to follow pitch 5.

Caitlin and I hang out at the pitch 5 anchors.

Lunch-time nap at the forested ledge atop Diedre.

Diedre follows the crack/dihedral in the lower right, Squamish Buttress rises above it.

We then headed over to Exasperator (2 pitch, 5.10c). A recent issue of Rock and Ice referred to this as the "best 5.10 in the world." I'm not sure how you could ever say that about any climb, but it was definitely the most amazing 5.10 I have ever climbed in my short and undistinguished climbing career. Unfortunately two guys were "running laps" on pitch 1. I'm not sure how you could ever feel like this is an okay or polite practice on such a popular 2 pitch climb, even on a weekday evening. So we decided to get pizza and do it first thing the next morning.

We went to get Little Caesar's Hot and Readies and (here is where I jump on my soapbox, as if I wasn't on it already) found out that they are now mediums for $5.55 instead of larges for $5.00! I don't know if this is just in Canada or if the US locations now rip you off too. Little Caesar's, let me tell you, the only reason your crappy pizza was ever worth getting was because you could get a ridiculous amount for such low cost. I know that a medium pizza seems comparable to a foot-long sub sandwich but at least fast-food sandwich shops produce a food product which you can actually look at and see that some of the ingredients came from real food at some point in the not-too-distant past. Simply put, your product is crap and instead of a good value it is now a mediocre value. If this was Rome and I was a Caesar you would be fed to the lions for the amusement of the masses. Then I would decree, "FREE LARGE PIZZAS FOR EVERYONE," at your company's expense (end soapbox monologue).

Squamish bouldering statue says, "stick your head up my finely chiseled backside Little Caesar!"
The next morning we had no one to contend with at Exasperator. I led pitch 1 and Chris led pitch 2. We both stuck with it on some tenuous feeling sections and got it clean first try. Chris used up his small cams early, then kept going on passive pro, then dropped his nuts (but not his cahones) and was still able to make it to hand crack territory and clip the chains for the on-sight. The whole climb was fantastic. Normally I'm the type of person who would rather get up a big multi-pitch and top out than do some cragging like this, but I have to say this was the highlight of the trip for me. It was just so flawless and when I close my eyes at night I have the line of that perfect splitter seared into my retina as if I've been staring intensely at it all day. Wow, okay, I'll stop waxing poetic. Anyway, now I really want to go back, especially for the longer top-out routes on the Chief. Rock On, Squamish Buttress via another good Apron route, and Angel's Crest are definitely on my tick list for next time.

Starting up pitch 1 (5.10a) on Exasperator (all pics from this route taken by Caitlin).

Almost to the anchors on Exasperator pitch 1.

Chris leads through the crux on pitch 2 (5.10c).

Belaying Chris on pitch 2. Apron Strings is visible behind me.

Chris finds the perfect hand crack on the upper part of pitch 2.

P.S. I did not crimp, full crimp, half crimp, lock-off on a crimp or make any semblance of a crimp during this whole climbing trip... so strange.

Following Chris on Exasperator's second pitch.

The Chief shrouded in mist.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Running Based Training for the Alpine part 2 (some specifics)

In my last training post I talked about some of the basic concepts of training, like stress and recovery. I also talked about timing and patterns in training, like how long it takes to adapt to certain stresses. In this post I'm going to talk about how you can decide what to do on a day-to-day basis, i.e. what to focus on in each workout. I get pretty specific and while you are welcome to follow this word for word, I think it will be most useful to people as guidelines and ideas to add to what they already do. The important thing is consistency and specificity (doing stuff that specifically corresponds to your goal activity). While deciding what to take and leave from this post, remember: the best training program does the most with the least.

The Basic Idea:
1. Figure out what physiological systems you need to stress, then figure out the best workouts to create that stress.
2. Make a list of all these workouts and sort them so that similar workouts are not next to each other.
3. Every time you  have a non-mountain training day, and have some excess energy, do the next workout on the list.
4. If you feel too tired to provide a concentrated effort then do a short and easy run (or other aerobic exercise) and focus on stretching, eating well and going to sleep early.
5. Keep repeating the list as your body and other activities allow. Go a little faster or do a little more each time you repeat a workout.
6. Stay relaxed and flexible. Before and after a big trip/expedition/weekend/etc. just go easy. Take a day or two off if you need it.
7. Remember that consistency creates the most improvement. You will gain much much more from repeating the easy version of a workout five times than from doing a longer or more intense workout once or twice.

Ideas for your workout list (I like to think of these as "fast AND relaxed" but never hard):
1. Strength workouts: uphill bounds/sprints/stairs during your run, or alternate quick running with strength exercises (example: 400m in 80-90 seconds (10km race pace), 20 lunges, 10 burpies, 20 sit-ups, 10 hops each foot, repeat 4-6 times, no rests)
2. Speed workouts: run as fast as possible for 10 sec once every 3 minutes during your run, repeat 10 times (this will help your muscle efficiency and power, and is helpful even on a glacier walk-up).
2. VO2 max (maximum oxygen usage) workout: run fast for 1min (3km to 5km race pace), run easy for 1min, repeat until you have ran fast for at least 6 minutes, ideally 10-20 minutes of fast running. You can do 2min/2min, 3/3 or 4/4. I recommend starting with short intervals and building up.
3. Lactic acid processing workouts (super critical for recovering from hard work at altitude): 30 sec fast (relaxed sprint), followed by 3 min easy, repeat 4-8 times.
4. Lactic threshold workouts: run at a steady but fast pace, depending on what I'm doing this could be 10 miles at 6 minute mile pace or faster, or it could be running easy for 15 min and then turning around and coming home in 12-13 min. You can also just find a long sustained uphill 2-5 miles long and run this (better workout for the alpine).
*Easy run/workout: if you are feeling low energy and/or sore run at a relaxed pace for at least 20 min (if I'm doing ~60 min fast runs then I'll do ~40 min easy runs). Afterwards stretch for 15 min, holding each stretch for at least 30 sec (static stretch).

Warm-ups and cool-downs:
1. Always run for at least 10 min at an easy pace before doing anything on the workout list. In winter I like to do 20 min of easy running to make sure I'm really warmed up.
2. Do dynamic stretching and light strength work before the list workout but after easy running. Examples of dynamic stretching: leg swings, high knees, butt kicks, etc. Examples of warm-up strength work (body weight only) 10 push-ups, 5 pull-ups, 20 step-ups, 20 lunges.
3. Do some fast running (4x 10sec fast and relaxed) before your list workout or just ease into the first interval or fast section.
4. After your workout do any strength maintenance activities you want: core strength, balance and lower leg exercises, hip strength, single leg squats with a 50 lbs. pack, whatever, just make sure you balance opposing muscle groups and remember not to overdo it after your run.
5. Static stretch: after all activity is finished is the only time I hold a stretch. I'm not trying to improve flexibility per se, mainly I'm holding muscle fibers in an elongated position which forces them to relax, allowing increased blood flow and faster recovery. After stretching, massage and ice bathing can also relax muscles and increase blood flow (elevated feet is the lazy man's ice bath and helped me get through 4-race days during major track meets).
Approaching Matterhorn Peak in the Sierra Nevada less than one week before climbing Mt. Shasta.
Looking South from Matterhorn Peak into Yosemite National Park. I used lots of short easy runs to recover for Shasta.
On top of Matterhorn Peak. Car to car in less than 8 hours.

In my last post I talked briefly about training or activity logs. It took a long time for me to become convinced of their usefulness. Many running stores sell pathetic little mileage log books that encourage you to log how many miles you run each day. I'm not a fan because for me mileage doesn't equal preparedness. I think that your running log should show what is important to you and this may change. For the sake of giving ideas on log keeping, but also to show how I apply my own ideas, I'm going to include some excerpts from my 2012 log...

In May I was in Indiana building a rock climbing wall, doing hard physical work 60-70 hrs/week:
Mon-Sun, May 7-13
7 work 7am-7pm, 12 hour day, lower leg strength, core, stretching
8 work 7am-7pm, 12 hour day, 10 min boulder traverse, pullups, pushups
9 work 7am-7pm, 12 hour day, 20 min run 3x 1min fast/1min easy, leg strength, stretch
10 work 7am-7pm, 12 hour day, lower leg strength, core, pushups, stretching
11 work 7am-6:30 pm, 11.5 hour day, 10 min boulder traverse, pullups, stretching
12 work 8am-6:30pm 10.5 hour day, bouldering, 31 min run w/ speed and tempo, lower legs, core, stretch
13 off work, 73 min run at Eagle Creek, skipping drills, stretch

In September I went from my cousin's wedding in Santa Fe, to trail running in Oregon, to alpine rock climbing in the Tetons in one week. I took easy days where possible and tried to relax and enjoy everything:
Sept 1-10
1 forearm strength and some stationary biking, core, stretching, Alexa's wedding! Lots of dancing!
2 fly back to Bend, throwing up and diarrhea (lack of sleep, alcohol, bumpy plane ride, stomach bug?)
3 walk to top of Overturf Butte with Caitlin, chill out and eat plain food and drink water
4 39 min run up river trail with Ghelfi, lower legs, core, pullups, stretch
5 drop off Ryan and Joe at Pole Creek at 4:45am for the Sister's Traverse, then ran South Sister (2:15 to summit and 3:30 round trip) to meet them
6 22 min walk, stretch, prep for Tetons
7 wake up at 3:30am, pick up Ian and drive to the Tetons
8 Grand Teton! wake up at 2:15 am, leave Lupine Meadows TH at 3:15am, reach start of Lower Exum at 10:30ish, lead p1 and 3-6, combine p3&4 and p5&6, reach Wall Street at 3ish, solo all of Upper Exum in approach shoes, Grand Teton summit at 5:30ish, two rappels to Upper Saddle, Lower Saddle at 8ish, hike back to car, arrive around 12:30am (21+ hrs round trip), sleep by 1:30am
9 off, big breakfast in Jackson at the Virginian, drive to Yellowstone, swim in Lewis River, walk around
10 off, drive back to Bend

In October I had a lot of time off and really got into training but had some nagging running injuries so did a lot of biking:
Oct 19-29
19 65 min bike out Cascade Lakes (change flat), 4 circuits at Harmon Park (crawl, lunges, hops, burpies, high knees), pullups, stretch
20 70 min bike w/ Mike and Chris, 20 min run w/ 4 sprints, leg strength, core, stretch, climbing at Meadow Camp w/ Chris and Caitlin (7 routes)
21 off
22 31 min run, leg strength, core, 20 min boulder traverse, 5 ea climbing drills, stretch
23 bike to rock gym, climb w/ Chris and Caitlin (TR, lead, boulder), pullups, bike home, L hip tight
24 47 min run w/ 4x 10sec sprint, strength repetitions (only 31 pullups), stretch+ (L hip still tight)
25 38 min bike, cfeet, core, stretch, 32 min bike to Metolius, bike to rock gym, 20 min laps, TR w/ Mike and Caitlin, bike home via supermarket
26 30 min tempo run, stretch, climb at Smith w/ Tess and Chris (Lower Gorge 3x 5.10s, try Pure Palm)
27 climb at Smith w/ Ian in mountaineering boots (2x 5.7, 2x 5.8, all knobby slabs)
28 climb at Smith w/ Mike/Caitlin/Chris, lead Cinnamon Slab (2ps), follow Karate Crack, started raining
29 60 min run, leg strength, core, stretch 
Approaching the Lower Exum on the Grand Teton.
Ian enjoying life on top of the Grand after 15+ hours on the move.
So that's it for now. I hope this is helpful to whoever reads it. Please feel free to post any questions or feedback below. Have fun running!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Running Based Training for the Alpine part 1 (some thoughts)

So let me start this by saying that although I am not very experienced or accomplished as a climber yet, I do move pretty fast in the mountains. I've spent plenty of time in the mountains, so that counts for something, but I think it mostly stems from 10+ years spent as a competitive distance runner. It's not that I'm in amazing shape, I'm actually not relative to five years ago, but I have lots of experience preparing my body to do something specific. I've read a lot on the subject of running training, I have an educational background in human biology and physiology, and I've experimented on myself for several years so I feel like I have some ideas worth sharing.

Despite the fact that all human powered alpine sports are primarily limited by how fast and far you can go, especially uphill, it seems like few participants take time to get fit for this. I hear a lot of climbers, mountaineers and backcountry skiers talking about running for this purpose, but I see few of them following through. It makes sense that if you want to ________(insert sport here) you spend all your free time doing that sport and not running, but unless you are a total dirtbag you can't get out in the mountains every day. In this post I'm not going to give you some generic 10 week program that you have to do everyday. Instead I'm going to try and give you a basic framework, rules of thumb if you will. This way, on those days when you are too busy to go somewhere cool, you can still do something that prepares you to do more on your next day (or week) out in the mountains.

 Some Myth Busters:
1. Your workout doesn't need to be painful or even hard (in fact, it probably shouldn't be) to have a big benefit. A good athletic performance is when the muscles you need work maximally, while the ones you don't stay totally relaxed... in other words, grimacing and straining just waste energy.
2. Your workout doesn't need to be long to help you (even a 30 minute run can be effective training stimulus). If you are spending a full day or two out in the mountains every week then you are getting plenty of endurance. Trying to do long runs (90+ min) too is just going to make you tired and train you to move slowly.

Celebrating after crushing the round trip time on the Mirador Las Torres in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. This was fairly easy for me after a 6 month season of collegiate cross-country training.
Some Key Concepts:
1. Recovery is the most important part of training. If you don't recover then everything you did only took away from your ability to perform. This doesn't just mean sleeping and eating, an easy aerobic workout followed by stretching is one of the most important things you can do to recover.
2. Everyone is different. Besides having different strengths and weaknesses, you will respond differently to different workouts and recover at different rates than other people. Listen to your body!
3. Everyone knows that they need to practice and train to get better. The hard part is figuring out what your weaknesses are and figuring out how to fix them.
4. Conversely, know your strengths and exploit them. This will help you optimize your performance, whether its deciding how to break up lead blocks or where to take rests.
Setting out to run to the Mirador Las Torres beneath the Torres del Paine in Patagonia.
Mirador Las Torres, 12+ miles round trip and 4,000+ ft net elevation gain in 1:38.
In our sport we don't always know when we are going and what we are going to do. It could dump powder tomorrow and you could be trying to ski as many lines as possible Saturday morning, or the weather could suddenly clear and you could be cragging all weekend. You need to be flexible: always fit but never too tired. This is a hard balance to strike and luckily the seasons provide a little predictability. If you know you aren't going to be doing a big trip or trying major objectives on the weekend then you can push a little harder on your non-mountain training days. Ideally you have a good fitness base so that when your season arrives or that big trip comes up you can back off on the day-to-day training and have a big energy reserve.

Facts and Figures:
1. It takes 10-14 days for your body to generate improvements from an intense workout, so don't hammer your workout 5 days before you try the hardest route of your life. As you approach a big trip don't be afraid to keep going down the list but keep the overall stress level low and leave plenty of easy days.
2. It takes 3-4 weeks for your body to adapt to a constant stress. If you have ran a lot previously you will notice it gets easier after week 1 as your brain rediscovers neurological pathways and you become more efficient. Avoid the temptation to step it up. By the end of week 2 you will feel tired, even if you were doing other training before starting a new program. If you listen to your body and keep running then by the end of week 4 you should feel good (if you don't you over trained). Now its time to kick it up a notch.
3. It takes 6 weeks to create actual muscle changes. If you are doing a strength program, or mixing strength and running, keep the strength stress consistent for 6 weeks before upping the ante or moving on to a different focus. I like to mix strength with running as part of my warm-up or cool-down but it is hard to do both at a high level. You need to pick a focus.

Eating cheese baguets while traversing a dry glacier during a 47km/8hr off trail hike outside of Chalten, Patagonia. I had 2 days in Chalten followed by 2 days on a bus so I pushed myself hard while I could.
Remember you are a unique organism, not a machine! Don't force your body to perform until you know how it will respond. Start an activity log and write a brief summary of what you did and how you felt each day. You will start to see patterns and this will help you to understand how your body responds to training. Personally, I can hammer myself 2-3 days in a row before needing at least 2 easy days, anymore and my body is too trashed to keep up consistent training. Other people will see different patterns.

I wanted to do one post on running and training but it turned into a freaking text book, so I'm breaking it up into two parts. In my next post I'll provide some more specifics on what you can focus on during each running based workout.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sending the Project: Alpine 5.1 on Mt. Washington

Yeah, that's right. I sent it. It took me two whole attempts (read about the first one here), I was that committed to this proj. In fact, not only did I get the redpoint, but I did it solo. Obviously this takes down James Lucas' claim as the only living redpoint soloist (well actually this isn't comparable at all but just let me revel in glory for a minute).
Mt. Washington from the PCT trailhead after I got back to the car at 1pm. The North Ridge descends toward the viewer, the rock section follows the left hand skyline of the summit pinnacle.

Three Fingered Jack (L) and Mt. Jefferson (R) while approaching Mt. Washington.

On this attempt several things were different. There was practically no wind. It was a clear, sunny day. The temperature was probably 50 degrees warmer than the first time. I had awesome custom approach shoes (thanks to the Gear Fix) instead of ice climbing boots. I also had two tools in case there was some steep neve.
Custom approach shoes (lightweight Merrell hiking shoes with dot rubber soles), with BD strap-on crampons.

However, some things were the same. There were still huge drifts of snow. The climbers trail was totally hidden and I missed it again, ending up on the West Ridge again. Navigating in thick trees was difficult and time consuming.

Coming off the West Ridge and making my way toward the North Ridge (L skyline).
I camped near the PCT trailhead the night before. I slept through my alarm and was woken by sun at 5:30. I left the car at 6am. Once I was on the West Ridge I traversed its steep north flank to the bowl between the North and West Ridges. From here I climbed up the bowl, directly to where the North Ridge meets the summit pinnacle. The sun was coming on to the snow and ice chunks were rolling down. I followed saplings and boulders, trying to avoid the line of fire.

Heading toward the NW bowl and the North Ridge.
Looking up the NW bowl toward the summit pinnacle.

Cruising up 40 degree neve in the custom tennies. Sun starting to hit the face.

When I reached the base of the pinnacle I broke out the rock gear and harness. From the snow ridge I moved up a left leaning snow ramp which traversed over the exposed East Face. The rock climbing started here and was broken up with snow covered ledges. This east facing snow was soft from the sun so I backed down the ramp and stowed my crampons and ice axes. I kick stepped back up and started climbing rock. It was definitely chossy but there were solid holds to be found. The snow was scary but easy. The hardest part was negotiating shaded alcoves with ice still covering the best rock holds.
Looking up at the summit pinnacle from just below the North Ridge.

The left leaning snow ramps takes you to the start of the rock climbing.
Looking down the steep and exposed East Face. Falling would not be good.

The top came suddenly and had amazing views of the Sisters to the south. I loitered, taking photos and rehydrating for several minutes before descending. I rappelled off the first slung horn, removing some old tat and trusting a very new looking piece of cord that was already there. I then down climbed to the last slung horn. I removed a couple pieces of faded tat here too, then rapped back to the snow ramp.
Looking down the North Ridge from a snow field part way up the summit pinnacle.

(L-R) Broken Top, North Sister, Middle Sister from the summit of Mt. Washington.

Setting up the first rappel. I backed it up with a prusik as I was using a thin 8mm half rope (30m).

I had seen from above that the North Ridge went almost to the burn where the trailhead was. Wanting to try find the actual climbers trail I followed the ridge. I was soon following a boot pack and was confused when it dead ended on a small pinnacle. As I turned and looked back I saw beautiful ski tracks diving off the ridge and down the East Face. Kudos to the skiers who have been slaying the gnar out there recently.
Looking back at the upper North Ridge and the summit pinnacle.

See those ski tracks? Someone shredded the gnar.

Eventually I hit a cairn and started following switchbacks off the ridge. Within 100 feet the trail was covered in snow and I lost it. I guess it really doesn't want to be found this time of year. I trended north and west, eventually reaching the burn. I hit the PCT soon after. A short walk later I was back at the car. It was 1pm. I stretched and sorted my gear before driving home for a late lunch and a swim in the Deschutes River.
Mt. Washington's East Face from the highway on the drive home. North Ridge is the right hand skyline. The rock section of the route ascends the middle of the summit pinnacle.