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Sure, walking’s easy – until you throw in snow, altitude, and a steep slope. Fortunately, there’s a simple secret to tackling big-peak terrain: the rest step. This time-tested trick preserves energy while helping you maintain a steady pace – albeit a slow one. If you’re headed to a peak like Rainier, master this fundamental mountaineering technique.
Step 1 – Step up and forward quickly, then lock your downhill knee and shift your weight back onto that leg. This puts your weight on your bones, allowing your muscles to relax.
Step 2 – As you take your next step, don’t kick forcefully into the snow. Instead, transfer your weight to your uphill leg and let the momentum of your stepping leg swing your boot into the snow.
Synchronize your breathing with each movement. Inhale deeply as you step up; exhale fully into the rest step. As you tire – or if you feel breathless at higher elevations – take an additional breath or two between steps. While the going may feel tediously slow, this measured pace and breathing strategy staves off fatigue and may help reduce your susceptibility to headaches, nausea, and other effects of hiking at altitude.
Out of breath? Try pressure breathing, a technique that mountaineers swear by. During your rest step, exhale forcefully through pursed lips, emptying your lungs in one big “whoosh” as if you were trying to blow out a giant candle. Docs debate the physiological benefits of this technique, but if nothing else, it keeps your mind off that pounding headache.