Denali plan and fitting in weekend climbing during a 24 week training plan

  • Creator
  • #5990

    I aim to climb Denali in June 2018; initially via the West Buttress to acclimatise then via the Cassin Ridge (the main objective).

    At present I’m focusing on volume and getting as much running, hiking and climbing done at a low aerobic heart rate as possible, my theory being that this will give me a large base with which to start my proper, structured training. I’ve had two trips to the european alps this year (total of 6 weeks) and last year I spent 3 weeks in the european alps and 3 weeks in Kyrgyzstan, all of it spent climbing or recovering.

    I finish my current employment at the start of December and will be at college from then till the end of March (evenings and weekends free). From then till departure for Denali my schedule is, to all intents and purposes, free. I have a gas exchange treadmill test booked at a local university sport lab for the end of this month so I should have a good idea of my HR zones from that (up till now I’ve been assuming a AeT of 150, corresponding to ventilatory markers). I could have waited till I had this test done to make this post but gives me more time.

    My questions are the following:

    1) Given that I will have six months, the 24 weeks training plan available on this site would seem to be ideal for me. I’m trying to concoct my own based on TFTNA but don’t want to get the volume wrong (my main concern). Perhaps somewhat cheeky but…the average weekly training hours and training load by week shown on this page, have they been assigned to an individual based on the initial 40 minute test and their training history or are these set values for the plan?

    2) I enjoy Scottish winter climbing, ski touring, hill walking and hope to get a lot of these done between November and April, generally both days at the weekend and once March comes around midweek also. The problem is that a Scottish winter day can be anything from 4 to 14 hours long, depending on the route and the approach. Given that this would either be far in excess of my weekly training volume or a significant chunk of it, how can I fit this (generally in the ideal heart rate and technically relevant) climbing into my plan?

    3) I’ve looked into the requirements for the West Buttress and some of the loads described (50lb packs plus similar in the sled) seem quite high. I want to know what experienced alpinists, climbing as a team of two or so, carry weight wise. I’m putting in the effort to strengthen my legs but I don’t want to do lasting damage to my back or knees by carrying too much.

    4) Based on the information below, what aspects of strength would those with experience of routes like the WB and Cassin recommend I train more of? For example less pushing, more pulling or vice versa.

    5) I’ve kept an accurate training and climbing log for the last few years. I’m in the process of duplicating it in Trainingpeaks but; should I count a 14 hour day (for example a day climbing in the French alps, or a long walking day in Scotland) as training time?

    To give an idea of my current fitness and technical level in order to assist in answering the above questions, my score in the alpine combine test as of one year ago is:

    Box step 31m20s
    Pushups 34
    Pull-ups 20
    Box jumps 38
    Sit-ups 32
    Dips 23

    I’m climbing E2 (5.10 or so in American money) and Scottish winter V 6. I’ve been to 5000m twice before and was pleased both times with how I functioned.

    Sorry for the long post. Finally, if anyone has anything to chip in that I haven’t already asked for above, please go for it; all experience and information welcome.

  • Participant
    Roberttaylor on #5991

    Forgot to mention, I’m also looking to head out to the French alps in May for two/three weeks for a final tune up/test.

    Anonymous on #6001


    It seems like you are well set up to succeed with your Denali objectives. You have a distinct goal, you are highly motivated, have solid technical skills and a good bit of time to implement a training plan. Steve and I both have fairly extensive experience on Denali and can offer some specific advice that may be helpful to you and others. Steve may choose to give some input here later as well.

    I’ll address you questions individually since you asked them in such an organized way.

    1) Concerning our 24 week Mountaineering training plan:
    The stock plans we sell on the website are based on the same principles and formulas as laid out in our TftNA book. We do them because we got so many requests from climbers and other who read the book, understood the theory but had trouble translating theory into a plan. The volume recommendations in those plans should be considered the minimum advisable for the objective of the plan. They can and should be adjusted to your own individual needs. But that needs to be done by yourself if you feel that it is not what you are capable of. That being said if you struggle with to do the minimum you should consider more time to build sufficient fitness.

    2)Concerning climbing trips during the training period.
    This is the number one question we are asked by climbers so it deserves restating what we have said on several occasions already.

    In order to training to be effective it needs to be Continuous, Gradually progressive in load and Modulating in that load with hard and easy periods. Random exercise, such as generations of climbers have engaged in, may get you fitter or it may not. Proper training will make you fitter than you have ever been. Our articles and and testimonials provide ample evidence that this works wether you are a professional climber or an dedicated amateur how read the book and got inspired to take their climbing to a new level.
    Randomly interjecting the odd 14 hour day into what was supposed to be a 14 hour week is no longer training.
    If you are not familiar with the Capacity vs Utilization concept you should read this: and the several forum posts on the subject found in the forum index to your right. The whole purpose of the base training period is to put money into that Capacity bank count so that you can go on a wild spending spree on Denali and not have to worry about getting an over draught notice from the bank which bring a screech halt to the climbing. If you are taking money out of the account almost as fast as you are putting it in by doing Utilizing type of trips; workouts or climbs that Utilize whatever Capacity you currently, then that Capacity bank balance can’t grow.
    Effective training means putting aside some short term gratification for long term gains.

    You can plan in a careful and progressive way to include climbing trips but they should fit into the the over all progression or be used for slight Over-reaching blocks followed by good recovery. Here is a good example of how 3 professional climbers did just such a thing in the middle/ate stages of their base training: These guys love climbing as much as anyone and could have “just gone climbing” but they all know that to reach a new level of fitness to achieve even bigger things they must “training” rather than go climbing because such and such route is in shape or because it has been on their tick list or because their friends call and want them to go climbing.

    3) Pack weight on the West Buttress.
    When Colin Haley and I climbed the West Buttress as acclimatization for the Cassin ridge we may have had a total of 50 pounds each split between a sled and a pack as we skied up to the 14,000 foot camp. Skis are essential for a light and fast climb of Denali as they make travel so much faster and easier. Without skis you are at a significant disadvantage and will expend a lot more energy. Above 14,000 feet Colin and I never carried even 10 pounds each on a coupe acclimatization skis and climbs. On page 109 of our book there is a photo of Colin on one of our acclimatization hikes to 16,500 feet on the West B. His day pack contains a down jacket and a water bottle. This is the same amount of gear we carried to the summit from 14k. So, you do not need to be beast of burden on Denali. Steve and proposed this idea on our book with an adjusted Denali climbing schedule for fit climbers.

    4) Concerning Training for the West Butt.
    You have adequate technical skill for the Cassin and certainly for the West Butt. Your main training should focus on developing concurrently: aerobic capacity and basic strength to very high levels. This is how our book is laid out and how the 24 week plan is designed. I’m not sure what you mean by pushing vs pulling. You need to be able ski or walk up hill with a heavy pack on for hours at a time. There will be some pushing and some pulling involved.

    5)Concerning counting training time.
    By all means you should count your days hiking the fells or climbing in the Alps as training volume. These activities add to your fatigue and fitness. Failure to factor them in will give you a an inaccurate picture.

    I hope this helps clarify

    Roberttaylor on #6030

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the time taken to help out. I’ll use winter climbing/skiing days for slight over reaching followed by adequate recovery and I’ll steer clear of any day that will leave me too tired. The info r.e. skis and pack weight is also useful; I guess a lot of what I’ve read online is tailored towards slow, guided parties.

    On that note, the clothing Steve recommends on the ‘Denali pace and gear’ post seems slightly more than I’d want on the legs (assuming a June summit bid). Is that because he’s moving slowly (for him) while guiding?



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