Last Day in Town!

Today is my last full day in town. I fly up to Anchorage tomorrow afternoon as our “advance” team – I’m going up a day early with all of our stuff that looks like weapons (we call them “sharps”) and all of our stuff that can cook or combust (three stoves!) so that I can fly at a manageable time of day, and also be the negotiation-friendly battering ram to get our gear through any hiccups it may encounter.

The other girls will fly out at the too-wee-for-me hour of 6am on Sunday (with a 4ish am start time).

On the Anchorage side we’ll be received by one of my close friends and trail buddies from college, Gil, at whose home I’ll stay on Saturday night. Sunday morning we’ll be out of bed early to get to the airport to grab the girls, and then we’ll drive straight from Anchorage to Talkeetna in a two car caravan, ideally after a decent breakfast, assuming everyone and everything arrives on time.

We have a 2:45pm check in with the rangers at the Talkeetna Ranger Station where we’ll be given the all clear to head out and get our Clean Mountain Can (where the poop goes as we climb), and we’ll bed down for the night at a modest hotel in Talkeetna, before (hopefully) flying out first thing on Monday, which would be at or after 8am, Alaska Time, although that will depend on weather.

In the meantime, here’s what life looks like this morning:

I woke up today to the urgent desire to go to REI, at 7am, because I’ve decided to switch up the way I’m sacking my food bags, so need a few more. Since REI doesn’t open until 9, you get this blog post. 😉

My Google Keep to-do list. Dwindling in length, and starting to feel manageable.

My Google Keep to-do list. Dwindling in length, and starting to feel manageable.

This is the Google Keep app that I’ve used to track my to-dos, and which I check more  times per day than Facebook. 😉 Each of the things that is on there isn’t on there because I haven’t tried to do it yet – it’s still on because of a hiccup.

My BD Guide gloves are the reason I’m up so early, and aren’t waterproofed yet because I lost the waterproofer they came with. Rather than sanely heading to REI to fork over the remainder of my dough, though, I felt compelled to search the house, top to bottom, sure I would find it. Instead…you can find me at REI today, a little after 9. I would have hurried up and gotten this done by now, but I knew I had most of two days for them to dry, and today and tomorrow off, so decided not to sweat it too badly. But yes – those gloves (and the need to give them enough time to dry) are why I’m up early. You’ll note “locate BD waterproofer” is still on there – what can I say? I’m stubborn.

Similarly, drying out the stoves is on the to-do list because I knew I had two solid days of sunshine coming up, but moreover, because I wanted to set them outside to dry out, but we have a very active raven/crow (which are they?) population, and I had this nightmarish image of them swooping in to sneak off with my stove parts with me oblivious, and not finding out until one of the other girls tries to light the stove on Denali. So the stove drying out waiting until today is really about me managing paranoia! I’m literally going to sit here and watch our stoves dry. Like paint, but more essential.

Other places in my house, it looks like this:

wpid-wp-1431098483210.jpgThat’s 26 “day bags” of food on the right side, with a day bag consisting of all my food from breakfast through to the hot drink and instant soup we’ll eat once we sit down in camp to heat water for dinner (the hot drink and soup are to fend off the “hangry”, and keep everyone happy while we wait for water to heat). The only food not in my day bags at this point is the cheese, which goes with the triscuits, which I’m going to vacuum seal into little baggies today, to try to preserve the triscuits intact. In front of the food is a luggage scale (handy-dandy, these days) and some extra stuff sacks, which are also piled on top of the whole mess.

We’re each bringing 5 “just add water and eat” high elevation meals – those are in the foreground. I went fancy on the risotto on the left – I promise to report back. The ‘Joy of Cooking’ is just there as a bookend, and on the left is Dr. Andy Luks’ guide to recognizing altitude sickness, which I plan on reviewing today.

Under the stuff sacks in the middle is my most exciting purchase -a new camera!!! I splurged (sort of) and bought a new camera even though my circa 2008 Nikon Coolpix would do. I got the Sony DSC RX100 I, after much agonizing and collection of data and reading of reviews, and when it came down to it I picked it because it had the larger sensor and the images would look better printed (or so they tell me). I haven’t even taken it out of the box (or the bag) yet, so my reward for getting through all my to-dos today will be playing with it as I head out for a last, nice dinner with Ed tonight, and then as we do brunch and hopefully sneak in a walk to the beach before I leave tomorrow. If I had more money right now I would have gotten the RX100 III, but this will still very much be an improvement over the Coolpix!

I ought to mention here that I feel very lucky we have such a spacious place – I often tease my boyfriend for having a house with a bit more floor space than two people need, but lately we’ve utilized every foot of it – and then some. Last weekend the girls were here alllll (and I do mean allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll) day Saturday and most of Sunday doing food packing and gear packing and sled-coffin weighing… and we had sufficient parking and space for all of it, and then some. So thank you to Ed, for sharing this big lovely house with me, and allowing me to fill it to the brim with climbing gear! 😉

And about that space – here’s what the other spaces look like:

wpid-wp-1431098585918.jpgThis is our gear room, and this photo makes me so happy I could burst. This is some seriously organized gear!!!

I’m one clothing stuff sack short of ready to throw these things into my duffel (lower left) and backpack upper left-center, just out of the shot, hence the REI urgency – really it’s just a matter of which stuff sack I’m not using for food, and that one will carry my remaining clothes. Because we have all our sharps in a sled, we have very little technical gear still out, and most of the rest is soft stuff. The pile in the lower right hand corner, plus my boots, will travel to Alaska in a carry-on, because we’ll be wearing them on the glacier when we fly in!

Otherwise you’re looking at my gaiters and overboots (both black in the middle-ish), a lingering extra glove decision to be made (also black in the middleish), a pile of cordage plus biners plus ascender plus tibloc plus harness on the left (seriously in need of better organizing – one of my to-dos today), a pile of food stuff (next to my boots and helmet) and then the following stuff sacks, from left to right: “head and foot” stuff sack (everything from spare socks to spare gloves to balaclava to sun hat), NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad, clothing stuff sack (green), first aid/toiletries/self-care items (everything from sunblock to deodorant to lady-business stuff), my super warm high elevation parka (black stuff sack), the group food I’m carrying (orange), a small stuff sack with toe and hand warmers (I have terrible circulation!) 4 stove bottles, and three black stove bags. The sleeping bag is out so the down doesn’t get any more compacted, and the foam mat goes too. The biggest piece of group gear I’m carrying is our tent, in its entirety – we have two matching Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tents, and I’ll have one. On the right are our radios, getting good and charged up before we go.

Finally, the gear “coffins”, and our wands. We take two sleds and put them together to carry our sharp stuff, and put duck (duct?) tape all around them to keep ’em together. One is closed and ready to go – the other needs to be taped up, but is also ready, since Ed helped me get a different sled than I had planned to use all prepared the other night. (My sled is the sweet one standing up on the left). The sleds are waiting in the hallway to our carport, to be whisked away to the airport.

wpid-wp-1431098621851.jpg

And that’s all she wrote! I’m off to nail down the to-do list – you can find me at REI mulling stuff sacks, or doing a stare down today with crows as our stoves dry out, if you need me. 😉 1 more day!!!

Condition ALL the Things!

Condition all the things

All of them. (Meme generated from the desperately awesome hyperbole and a half post, “this is why I’ll never be an adult:” http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

It should probably not surprise me that Leigh Ann and I both decided to write posts about conditioning in the same week – since that’s what life is focused on, right now.

In addition to our perpetual need to “Get the Gear,” the main thing we have to work on as a team right now is getting strong – massively strong. As we climb Denali we’ll have huge packs – approximately 60+ lbs on our backs, and we’ll be towing long sleds behind us that carry even more of our gear, food, and gas for the stoves, to distribute it, so that we can actually lift our backpacks.

By comparison, a weekend-long climbing trip in our native Pacific Northwest often merits a backpack that weighs about 40-50 lbs (depending on how light your gear is and how much, to borrow from Leigh Ann’s language, you’re ‘willing to suffer’ to go lighter and therefore have less stuff). And when climbing in the PNW, we’re not dragging additional gear on sleds – so this requires a big uptick in our normal training, for all of us.

All that means that in terms of fitness, we’re focused closely on two things: Strength training, and cardio. “Conditioning” (short for physical conditioning or training) is the term we use for all of this work – we’re getting “into condition” for our climb. A third element, movement specific training, I lump in with strength training, here – movement-specific training is practicing the actual movements we will use in the mountain, which in our case is predominantly the act of walking slowly upstairs while wearing a heavy backpack…for four weeks!

So how do we “condition all the things?”

We do cardio. We get cardio fitness (which down the line provides us with the ability to breath and stay in motion while working hard to walk up hill) from our conditioning hikes, which each of us is doing once or twice a week, together with the other Girls and a few like-minded (read: similarly masochistic) friends.

We meet up after work, in the dark, at a local trailhead, and pop our headlamps on, plus a layer (fleece, puffy coat, etc or two) that we can take off once we get moving and warm up. We carry trekking poles so we don’t slip in the dark, and in our backpacks right now we each carry 35 lbs of equipment – some of it is just large bottles of water (a new take on the term “water weight”) which we’re carrying as a stand in for all of our usual equipment (I don’t carry my ice axe on conditioning hikes, for example – although Leigh Ann does, because – she’s Leigh Ann). Some of what we carry is actual gear – we each carry first aid kits and the rest of our “10 Essentials,” both because doing so has been drilled into us by the Mountaineers over the years and because we want to make sure that if someone slips and falls or cuts herself, we can patch her right up and keep going, or descend.

We’ll steadily up the weight in our backpacks in the weeks to come, increasing it by 5lbs every few weeks or so, until we’re more closely approximating what it means to truly “climb with weight,” and can move easily and steadily with about 60lbs on our backs. And when we get to that point, we’ll descend our training hill, then turn right back around and do it again – to be sure we have that kind of stamina.

These night hikes are a form of cardio, and also provide some of the movement-specific training I mentioned earlier – walking slowly uphill (it’s muddy this time of year!) while carrying heavy weight. Doing so makes our legs stronger, most obviously, but it also makes our core stronger – it tones our ab muscles and lower backs, which are the muscles that you use when you start to slip and catch yourself, or rotate to the side to pick something heavy up, or scoop up a wiggly little kid. This kind of training isn’t the kind that will give you a six pack, but will make you strong in a way that I’d argue is way sexier than a six pack. A strong core is critical for climbing (and life!), and all this conditioning just builds it up, day by day, climb by climb, step by step.

For strength training, we’re all doing something a little bit different, and I’ll leave it to each of my teammates to explain what they’re doing in depth – but generally speaking: in Leigh Ann’s case, she’s doing Crossfit, and is a Crossfit trainer herself; Jenn is working with free weights at home and doing extra trips up our local conditioning peaks, plus running; and Carolyn is doing extra longer conditioning outings and other forms of contextual fitness training (I might have just made that term up – what I mean to say is she is doing the sport to get good at doing the sport – climbing makes you better at climbing, for example, and running better at running).

For me myself, it’s a mix. Each climber has to know her own body, limits, strengths and weaknesses – mine include a generally weak body, as compared to most of my climbing partners – I start over from a baseline of zero, in terms of strength, every winter, if I don’t make sure to maintain by staying deliberately active in what are usually our “off-season” months, from November through February (when we “only” cross-country ski and snowshoe and backcountry ski and scramble and and and…)

My strong bits are my legs and butt and my back/core, generally speaking – I’m very proud of those muscle groups (and, hell, they way they look in my jeans!) The gaps in my fitness are definitely my arms – you don’t necessarily use your arms as much as your legs in alpine mountaineering (although don’t get me wrong – climbing around boulders or pulling oneself up onto a ledge does work the arms), but if we were to fall and be sliding while climbing on Denali, we’d use a move called “self-arrest” – and that is heavily arm reliant – so I want to ensure those are strong as well.

(I tried to find a video of ice axe self-arrest to share with you all here, but – LORDY- they are SO BAD. Google it but don’t consider what you see the “correct” way to do it. Yeesh.)

This year I sought to mitigate these known weaknesses and gaps starting in September, by training for and running my first half marathon, to keep my cardio conditioning up and keep moving during the beginning of our rainy months. I also do a lot of informal yoga around the house and before and after workouts – yoga, at its heart, is about stretching – this helps me heal and stay resilient, to avoid injury.

In terms of strength training, then, my goal is to focus on the arms and building overall strength – so I surprised myself, and turned to Crossfit. Leigh Ann and I have climbed together extremely consistently over the last few years, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch her get stronger (and stronger…and stronger) as she’s been deliberate and dedicated about her training. It got to a point where even without having recently gone climbing she could more or less “just show up” and go out to climb, because her overall fitness was at a level that she was, more or less, “ready for everything.” And I thought … I want that!

So in addition to those one or two nights a week of hiking with weight, and some yoga, I’m doing Crossfit at 6am two to three times per week at my local gym. Getting myself to a Cross-fit gym has been something of an exercise in mind over matter: I’ve always sworn I would never get into weight-lifting, because I found the concept repellant (as I’ve said since high school, the simple concept of amassing weight for the sole purpose of repeatedly picking it up and putting it back down is nonsensical), so to find oneself hoisting a metal bar (with admittedly the most embarrassingly tiny weights ever) over my head, repeatedly, exhaustively – it’s really a big mental transition. But it is getting me to weight train, it is getting me stronger, and I like the community at my local gym, which is co-owned by a man and a woman (cool) and has a lead trainer who is also a woman, and who, despite almost certainly being younger than me, can probably bench-press my body weight (although that’s probably the wrong term for it. So many new words, in weight-training!)

So there’s the strength training component. Other aspects of training that I’d like to build in over the coming months include getting back to running once or twice a week – I dropped it like a bad habit shortly after finishing my half marathon – whoops. And in a perfect world I’ll pick up a class or two of hot yoga each week, to help with recovery – the time after a work out when you let your muscles heal, and also build themselves back up. My doctor is a marathoner and yogi, and has prescribed “more yoga” (in writing!) every time I’ve seen her for the last two years, so that’s on the list, as well.

It’s hard to know when you’re doing enough, though, when you have never done something at this scale before. What does “Denali Fit” look like? Will all our weight training, night hikes, movement-specific training, stretching and extra cardio add up to being ready in just shy of what is now three and a half months? How strong is strong enough?

The answer to these questions will become clearer as we get closer to Denali, and when we begin a planned series of weekend overnights at Mount Rainier National Park, to be spent reviewing our technical skills, getting our winter camping habits and camp setup nailed down as a team, and testing out our fitness by, hopefully, climbing Rainier itself. It helps you get a sense of where your fitness is for a 20,000 ft mountain when you have a 14,000 footer eye-balling you as you cross over the West Seattle Bridge on your commute each day!

Those outings begin for our team on January 31st, a wee 11 days away (and I kinda can’t wait). In the meantime, we’re headed out on yet another night hike tonight – to ensure we condition all the things.

Think of us enjoying the “summit” and the stars tonight, if you crawl into bed early. We’ll be out there, getting strong.