10 Questions with Leigh Ann

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Enjoying my UL Down hoody underneath Steven’s Pass chair lift. Rough winter to hone snow skills!

  1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?

Most of my thoughts revolve around some aspect of the climb, it’s nearly impossible to stop thinking about! From training, to being terrified of how cold it’s going to be, to wondering if I’m training correctly, to figuring out the best clothing system, I can’t get away from it!

Normal climbing season prep involves training hikes, but I don’t usually start ramping up until right before spring where this year I started in late December. I’ve never prepared so much for one particular climb or with this much weight in my pack. I usually concentrate on going fast, which is not the case here. Slow, heavy, and steady wins the race!

  1. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three new Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?

I bought my first pair of bibs for this trip and I’m totally stoked on them! Per usual, I had to buy a handful to find the right ones. The glass slHYPBLU_D1ipper ended up being Mountain Hardwear Drystein bibs. These things are awesome! They’re meant for climbing (alpine and ice) unlike most, which are generally built for ski touring. The difference is that they’re super light and articulate well at the knee for high stepping, something climbers do but skiers don’t.

Even though I’ve had some serious issues with Patagonia’s clothing this season, I’m super stoked on two items I’ve purchased. The Ultralight Down Hoody and the Active Mesh Boy Shorts. Do yourself a favor and don’t even look at the price of the Down Hoody. Ha, I knew you had to look! It’s F*CKING expensive, but unfortunately one of the only lightweight down jackets that actually fits my athletic build. Yes, I tried the very similar, cheaper Patagonia jacket and it’s apparently not meant for women with strong shoulders or arms and the same goes for so many other down jackets. I literally flexed my arms and then basically felt like the Incredible Hulk about to send 5,000 goose feathers shooting through the air! Although it’s a pretty funny image, it was a bit frustrating. I guess at least the super-duper expensive jacket that actually fits is kind of like my new wooby.

hulkferrigno

  1. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?

Food! Nutrition is such a vital part of this climb and directly correlates to performance and recovery. One, there is the big question of how many calories do I need? This number depends on current weight, lean mass, and energy expenditure, so it’s not as simple as “everyone should aim for 4,000 calories a day.” It’s much more complicated and individual than that. Two, there is the issue of long endurance days at high altitude. This trip requires a ton of fuel, however, altitude affects the way your body burns fuel and affects appetite. Things that taste good at sea level don’t taste the same at altitude. Luckily, I have some high altitude experience and generally know my likes and dislikes although preferences can change from trip to trip. It’s a balancing act of bringing enough of what you’ll actually eat, but not too much.

  1. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?

Plantain chips and nuts and dried fruit mix. I generally prefer salty and bitter foods over sweet, so it’s critical that the majority of my snacks are on the savory side rather than sweet like candy bars and cookies.

  1. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?

I haven’t really added anything totally out of the norm. I generally have a high training volume so I’m constantly trying to stay fueled with whole foods and performance products (protein powder, gels, BCAAs), it’s just the type of fuel has shifted a little. I’ve added more carbohydrates into my diet to accommodate the higher volume of endurance training, but honestly I’ve been trying to add carbohydrates for several months now, which has proven to be difficult. However, with this type of training I can’t really get away with it anymore. I found myself losing motivation halfway through a long workout, which is not like me and not good for training. Now when I say increase, I mean going from a low carbohydrate diet to what’s considered “normal”. I normally eat a ton of fresh veggies (an absurd amount really), protein, and a modest amount of carbs.

One specific product that I added, thanks to the suggestion of fellow trainer Jim Hein, is Generation UCAN  Superstarch. It’s a slow burning carbohydrate powder that you mix with water. It’s been an awesome addition to my pre-workout routine!

  1. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?

Crevasse rescue. In general this is the most complicated glacier climbing skill and one I already knew. However, adding HEAVY packs and sleds complicates things a lot. I realized when we practiced the self rescue side of crevasse rescue (hanging ourselves off the Mountaineers roof) that all of my practice prusiking up ropes had been done on a rock rope, which is typically a larger diameter than a glacier rope. Using prusiks toIMG_2055 ascend a glacier rope is ridiculously hard! The prusiks are either too tight and are really hard to move with big gloves or their too loose and slide, making ascending nearly impossible (yes, correct size of prusik cord was taken into consideration and tested). Since the West Buttress route on Denali involves fixed lines (fixed ropes that help with ascending), we all have to have ascenders, which allows us to travel up a rope without sliding back down. After some testing we realized it made a lot of sense to use our ascender and a tibloc or traction pulley in place of prusiks. This required a whole nother round of testing! Now we’re super confident that we can quickly and easily get ourselves out of a crevasse if necessary. Let’s just hope we don’t actually have to use this skill!

  1. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.

Socks and baselayers. For some reason these items have been the most difficult for me to settle on. I have a pile of base layers that I’m still contemplating, as well as waiting for new, light weight ones to show up in stock. I have a few different styles of socks being delivered this week and I hope to make that decision as soon as they arrive.

  1. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?

No big noticeable physical changes for me. Honestly, I’m surprised how much muscle mass I’ve been able to hold onto with the endurance training. I’ve made it a priority to continue strength training, however it looks a lot different than what I was doing. I went from training Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk), strength lifts (back squats, press, deadlifts, etc.) and CrossFit-style workouts 5x a week to 2-3 upper body (high volume) strength training sessions and 1 lower body (high intensity), 2-3 heavy pack hikes, 3-4 circuit, interval, or CrossFit workouts a week. Just like my fuel, my training has just shifted priorities from strength to endurance.

  1. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?

My favorite on the current reading list:

Nutritional Needs in Cold and High-Altitude Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations,

Bernadette M. Marriott and Sydne J. Carlson, Editors;

Committee on Military Nutrition Research, Institute of Medicine

I like to nerd out on these things. Again, thanks to Jim Hein for pointing me to this resource!

  1. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?

A successful climb will be one where we feel like we gave 200% of our effort, while walking away safe and happy. It’s about the experience, not about the summit. I look forward to sharing this experience with these ladies!

10 Questions with: Meredith!

As we wind our way into April (crazy!), there’s a lot on our minds and several items on our to-do lists, although each of us is focused on and working hard to address different things. Over the next few days each of us will post a “10 Questions With:” blog entry, to each answer the same 10 overall questions and  share what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and where our head is at with regards to the rapidly approaching Denali climb.
First up? Yours truly.
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1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?
Can I say “spraining my stupid ankle” without sounding like a petulant seven year old? Because spraining my stupid ankle definitely became a defining experience in this training period. It was frustrating (and somewhat agonizing) to get super amped up to really get started and put in the training time with the rest of the girls, then go out on our first all day conditioning hike, and slip on ice …while standing still looking at the view. And it sucked to stay home while they went out to train, a few of those earliest weekends. It made me feel 100 years old. 100, and seven, apparently.
My sister during a recent visit, "helping" me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little - by mimicking me, like a dork. :)

My sister during a recent visit, “helping” me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little – by mimicking me, like a dork. 🙂

The biggest change post ankle, though, has been the addition of actual weight training (weight lifting) to my weekly workout routine, and that of ramping up that routine much earlier than usual (early January versus late February). I’m carrying 45 lbs, as of this week, and would normally be at about 35 right now.
Jenn pulling weights around back in February

Jenn pulling weights around back in February

In terms of weight-training – in early February we got together at Leigh Ann’s gym, Level 4 Crossfit, to talk about specific training movements to focus on, and pull sleds loaded with weight. Leigh Ann made a list of upper body and core workouts to focus on, and rather than keep track of them individually, I took a photo of the wipeboard, and then turned them into a checklist in my Droid’s ‘Keep’ app that I run through every single time I’m at the Y, checking them off as I go (very satisfying, psychologically). I do all the upper body and core stuff twice a week for about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I’m totally wiped – to the point where my arms tremble while I open my gym locker. Weight-lifting is hard (and a bit intellectually un-engaging) but I have the core (back and waist-area) resilience, and hunky new biceps, to prove it’s worth it!
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2. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?
Some of my favorite gear I’m taking on this trip is old gear: circa 2011 Patagonia Expedition 4 black long underwear pants (the newer Exped 4s are really thin!), and a pair of white Elita long underwear that I got way back when I first started backpacking, from my parents. There’s nothing like the old standbys.
Me in my "new" Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I've ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it's fuzzy).

Me in my “new” Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I’ve ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it’s fuzzy).

In terms of new gear: I bought a new hardshell jacket (hardshell = plastic-like wind-blocking external layer) from Patagonia, sized bigger than I normally would so that it can cover all my layers, and I took it out for a test-drive this weekend and kinda love it. It’s their Patagonia Alpine Houdini, and it’s a super stripped down, super lightweight layer, complete with tiiiiny zippers! Although I admit, I wish it had pockets! (They left ’em off because it’s supposed to be super light – hence the “Houdini”). Plus, I like it because mine is purple. And that’s not because I’m a girl – it’s because I like purple!
Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive Spantiks!

Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive as all get-out Spantiks!

I also love (love, love, love) my La Sportiva Spantik (Carolyn rather adorably calls them “Sputniks”) boots, which look like moonshoes. The Spantiks are double boots (so there are two individual lace-up boots you wear on each foot – one nests inside the other), as opposed to plastics (which have a hard plastic shell, like ski boots). The Spantiks were my biggest, splurgiest purchase – they cost more than I have ever paid in monthly rent, to put it in perspective. I really wrestled with whether I should get those, or the Koflach Artis Expe plastic boots, which are about $300 cheaper (I actually bought and took home both, and then stared at the two pairs obsessively for most of February before making a decision), but I realized that most of the time when faced with a decision like this, I go for pragmatism and choose the cheaper option, and I’ve been known to suffer for that in the past. But my feet are literally what’s going to carry me up the mountain – so I went for the fancy option, this time, and haven’t regretted it whatsoever. And to quote the MountainTrip gear list – what’s $750 divided by 10 toes? $75 a toe? The most expensive boots of my life, for sure, but keeping toes is worth at least that much. (Don’t worry mom and dad – losing toes is extremely unlikely!)
Other goodies I’m loving – the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero parka I bought with a killer deal (in bright orange, no less), even though it’s sized for a dude with a barrel chest and I’m pretty sure I could fit Jenn in there with me(!), and Leigh Ann’s super sweet new Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent! So sweet! So much internal storage! Such bright colors!
Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that's not quite what I meant. But I like it, so let's leave that here...

Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that didn’t quite come out how I meant it… But, whatever. 😉

Finally, can I cast a “cool gear” vote for Leigh Ann’s sweet new climbing bibs, which I can’t seem to find in my size anywhere, for the absolute life of me, but I’m sure she’ll tell you about?
 
3. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?
I’m not worried about much, to be honest – I’m a pretty level-headed, logical task manager, and that trait has been very much present these last two months. I think the main thing I’m worried about is what you might call the “controversial leave-behinds” – the question of how many shovels to bring, how many probes, whether to bring our avalanche beacons, and whether to bring helmets. (I’d be interested in the perspective of other people on this issue, I should note). A lot of the rescue gear we carry in the Cascades is more disproportionately useful in the Cascades, and so some climbers leave it behind for trips like Denali, but having been trained to compulsively wear one’s beacon…it’s really hard to contemplate leaving it behind, ever.
 
4. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?
I can’t do bars or oatmeal, and I don’t eat meat, so no jerky, which pretty much makes me the most difficult mountain eater imaginable. I would rather do raw, unadulterated nuts (of almost any kind), straight up chocolate, or absolute crap candy (hello, gummy bears!) than anything else. Normally I’d carry raw almonds, dried apricots, Stretch Island, single serving fruit leather things that were all the rage a few years back, and Primal Strips – pseudo-paleo vegetarian snack strips, as well as a few pieces of honest-to-god candy, around here. I also regularly steal dried mango from Trader Joe’s and peanut M&Ms from my boyfriend, here in Washington. In Alaska I’m anticipating a lot of fruit chews and some gels (consistency is a hang up of mine – I think oatmeal has the consistency of that which shall not be named, and some of those gels – don’t even get me started). So I’m experimenting a lot with what snacky foods to bring, and would very much welcome creative suggestions!
 
5. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?
This is one of my favorite questions, because I’m so pleasantly surprised by my answer. Coco Libre, a company that makes coconut water fortified with added protein, agreed to sponsor us by providing product (a few boxes full of single-serving, to-go containers of coconut milk) and I felt a little gun-shy at first, because the last time I tried coconut water that wasn’t straight from a coconut, I didn’t like it. The Coco Libre stuff is awesome, thought, and I’m completely addicted. Current training philosophy suggests that consuming additional protein after a work out aids in muscle recovery, so for awhile my fridge was totally stocked with the squeezable containers of it, and I’d grab one and throw it in my workout bag before heading to the gym. The chocolate one and the vanilla one are particuarly awesome, and both have additional protein added.
Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I'm ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I’m ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

I’ve also added a fish oil supplement, whey protein shakes, and other healthy bits (plus more eggs for breakfast: protein source), but don’t have much more to say about that beyond – yeah – I’m doing it. Those whey protein shakes are pretty good – that BCAA-G stuff in “Lemonade” is headed back to the store as soon as I have a minute. The Omega-3 vitamins are the size of horse pills. Gulp.
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6. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?
Working with the sleds is pretty interested, pretty challenging, and just kinda cool. Probably just that experience, of wearing a huge backpack while towing a full-loaded sled last weekend. I felt so super strong (and so super wiped out afterwards!)
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7. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.
So. many. things. The most obvious are filling my gear holes (which are somehow more glaring than those of the other girls) – I still need a new pair of crampons, insulated overboots (which are like a wetsuit that covers your entire boot and lower leg), a bigger harness (sized to go over all the new clothes I’ll be wearing), an extra pair of long underwear, new glacier glasses (SO over my old ones!) and down booties. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Eeek. Other things – confirming our flight date and travel plans, ride information, etc. The biggest single thing we’re still working with as a group is our food planning – that’s a whole other challenge, with our varied diets and desire to travel light (freeze-dry allll the things…)
[Editor’s Note: writing this entry induced enough panic that as of yesterday I now have the overboots, long underwear, and down booties. I also don’t have $600 that I did yesterday…]
 
8. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?
In a nutshell: two days outside last weekend – Saturday: sled work and snow camping, Sunday, hiking the big slope on the approach to Rock Lake. Monday: wasn’t feeling so hot – too much business travel wedged between a lot of climbing training. Tuesday: got stuck in traffic-pocalypse and missed my stair climbing plans (please see “Overturned fish truck on Viaduct ruined everyone’s day” – because, yep, thanks for that, Seattle). Tonight I’m working around social plans (with climbers – ha!) to hit up the West Seattle Y, first, and get my core and upper body workout in. Thursday I’m hoping to swim in the morning (for some active recovery and additional cardio),and then do our night hike with 45 lbs. I’m angling to take Friday off from work so that Jenn and I can head to the Mountaineers, hang off the roof, and give me a chance to practice escaping the crevasse by passing a sled, which the other girls practiced back when my ankle was still too messed up to bear weight. Then Saturday we condition again (45 lbs), and Saturday night we’re doing a “sleepover” at Jenn’s down to enjoy some downtime together but also get a bunch of small to-dos done! Sunday afternoon is real downtime, and then Monday it all starts over, again. The pace, at this point, is a little bit unrelenting.
And yes, on the physique – my core feels totally strong (which I partially attribute to the swimming I did most days in February!) and my biceps and shoulders could give Popeye a run for his money. 😉
 
9. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?
I’m trying to concurrently finish Steve House’s book ‘Training for the New Alpinism,’ and Colby Coombs’ ‘Denali: The West Buttress,’ which is a matter of fact treatment of what the climb entails. I had dropped both when we got really busy training, so that’s the goal for early April.
 
10. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to landing on the glacier – I think that’s going to be a bit mind-blowing – like whoa – we’re really doing this, we’re really here. To me a successful climb is everyone going up and coming down friends, and each woman feeling empowered to speak her mind about what we do from day to day, and feeling heard, and engaged in the decision-making. I’m less attached to the summit (to all summits, really) than a lot of people – for me it’s all about the adventure, and always has been. Even if something happens and I end up sitting down at basecamp, waiting for the other girls to come back – it will be an adventure, an experience, a great story. I just realized as I typed this that I have the perfect fortune cookie taped to my computer monitor, to sum it up:
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I’ll take a bit of daring, please!

Denali Girls on MoveSKILL Podcast

A few weeks ago The Denali Girls had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Werner to be interviewed for the MoveSKILL podcast. We discussed everything from team building and personality differences to training and nutrition. Being a former Navy SEAL, Dave has a wealth of knowledge and experience with cold weather endurance training, so it was great to sit down and discuss Denali with him.

MoveSkillLogoPlease check out MoveSKILL episode #18 in iTunes and listen to The Denali Girls talk with Dave Werner.

To listen to the podcast, either click HERE or Open iTunes, click on the iTunes Store tab, search for MoveSKILL, and listen to episode #18. While you’re there, check out the rest of the MoveSKILL episodes!

A little background about MoveSKILL and Dave:

MoveSKILL is an online strength and conditioning program with members from all over the world. Dave, co-founder of MoveSKILL, is also a pioneer in the CrossFit community, co-founding the first CrossFit Affiliate in the world (CrossFit Seattle) with his wife, Nancy Meenen. You can think of MoveSKILL as being an online platform for programming and resources and Level 4 CrossFit Seattle as being the lab (or gym) where ideas and knowledge are shared amongst trainers and where programming is put into practice.

Taken directly from the iTunes description: The MoveSKILL podcast is your resource for all things concerning general fitness. Our subjects include losing fat, building strength, improving flexibility, and learning to move better.

In addition to Dave and Nancy, all of the trainers at Level 4 have been incredibly supportive of The Denali Girls. Being a trainer at Level 4 has given me the opportunity to learn from some of the most knowledgable and passionate trainers in the industry. I appreciate all the time everyone has spent talking with me about nutrition and training, as well as general support in the project! Now go listen to the podcast!