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Backpacker Magazine – May 2008

Climb Higher

With the right preparation–and a little help from a half-dozen friends, two exotic techno-gadgets, and one very sweaty hypoxic chamber–can a sea-level-dwelling rookie climb the highest peak in Colorado?

by: Jim Thornton

Photos by Tomas Zuccareno
Photos by Tomas Zuccareno
The author simulates 12,000 feet on a queen size.
The author simulates 12,000 feet on a queen size.
The author tests his blood oxygen level...
The author tests his blood oxygen level...
...A lower saturation, common at altitude, can hurt.
...A lower saturation, common at altitude, can hurt.
No false summiteer: The author atop Elbert.
No false summiteer: The author atop Elbert.

From Sea Level to Summit | You, At Altitude | The Kili Cure | How to Reach Your Peak

How to Reach Your Peak
Short of bivouacing in a hypoxic tent, no known lowland training will accelerate the complex physiological systems involved in acclimatization. But with these tips, you can still improve your chances of summiting.

Take steps "Be as specific as possible in your physical conditioning," says Allen Cymerman, physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. That means using a step mill, stairclimber, elliptical–or real stairs or hills. Adds Todd Burleson, president of Alpine Ascents, "Work up gradually to training with a heavy pack and boots–even indoors."

Up load By the time you're two weeks from your climb date, you should be able to ascend 3,500 feet in about three hours–carrying the weight you'll be hauling on summit day. Start training with a light pack, then add 5 to 6 pounds a week.

Go long "You don't want to arrive at your climb never having hiked for 8 hours before," says Peter Whittaker, owner of Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. Schedule weekend days to build up to a distance and time as close to your summit plan as possible.

Give it a rest "Taking breaks is an important aspect of mountain climbing," says Burleson, who suggests kicking off your training regimen with three days of exercise and four days of rest. After a few weeks, add another workout, and eventually get yourself up to five days on and two days off.

Ease off The last thing you want to do is show up on summit day already wiped–or overtrained. A good rule of thumb? Get into peak shape about two to three weeks before your climb, then gradually reduce your effort–called tapering–until the big trip.

Arrive early Though complete acclimatization can take months, the lion's share of the benefits occur within several days of your arrival at altitude. Plan to include a few easy days up high before your final push.

From Sea Level to Summit | You, At Altitude | The Kili Cure | How to Reach Your Peak

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 10, 2014

Great article. It was entertaining, informative, and very well written.

Mr. Meowington
Jun 27, 2012

I thought rapid breathing (Hyper-Ventilation) decreases O2 in the body because of dead space. I thought the best way to optimize O2 intake is to take deep more efficient breaths.

Aug 19, 2008

Why was a man using using personal o2 sensors, writing for a backpacking magazine, committing the ultimate sin of wearing cotton socks, in the winter no less? Not another 10 bucks in the budget for wool?

Jun 07, 2008

Interesting article.

Would like to know a bit on were to purchase the unit, thus wish that had been a web link inserted into the article.


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