How big should I dream?

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  • #4710

    So, I’m 35 years old, moderately fit, have been doing ski mountaineering in the alps for 7 years or so and a bit of alpine stuff for 4 years or so. However, I have never trained systematically, so there are limits to what I’m currently able to do. I’m quite weak aerobically it seems and also have quite serious limitations when it comes to strength.

    But, I do dream of doing the big north faces in the alps, and maybe some day go to the Himalaya and climbe some higher mountains as well. At the same time I wonder if at my age it’s still realistic to dream like this? I have a family, a job, so even if I’m very motivated, there is limits to how much I can (or want to) train. 20 hours a week may be doable for a short period of time, but certainly not for longer periods.

    I’m aiming to get into a state where I can do the Eiger North Face 5 years from now, that seems somewhat realistic. My big advantage is that I live in Switzerland, so all the alpine peaks are within a weekend’s reach :-).

    But, will I ever be able to climb an 8000m peak without oxygen? Is it possible for someone starting quite late in life to achieve something like this without completely changing my life?

    I would love to hear how you’ve converted your dreams into reality, and how you did it!

Posted In: Alpinism

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    Anonymous on #4723


    The most important step you can take to make your dreams have any chance of coming true is to start with a plan. If you have already identified that your basic aerobic conditioning and basic strength are low then these are fairly easy to start working on TOMORROW. Don’t wait.

    You won’t need to train 20 hours a week to see big gains. Very few but the fittest professional athletes can manage that kind of time commitment. In the early stages you’ll probably be doing 5-8 hours per week. Our training plans are based off the same principles we laid out in our book. They are designed to gradually build fitness over the long term. There is no short cut and this is a multi year project if you really have big aspirations. Your location in CH is a big plus due to your access to mountains.

    There is just no way to predict the outcome for you. I don’t know enough about you to tell you anything other than to TRY. Who knows what may come. I can tell you that embarking on a good training program WILL make your mountain experiences (skiing and climbing) mush more successful and enjoyable.

    Good luck,

    Peter Hamel on #4863

    My short answer would be that I’ve met a few people that weren’t very fit, who have climbed the shorter 8000m peaks without oxygen. I think the tallest few 8000ers are in another league, though. So far, anyone I’ve met who’s done Everest or K2 without oxygen has been an elite athlete.

    I’d love to have some kind of metric that would tell you whether you’re fit enough to climb to a certain altitude. I could only throw out some vague guesses, maybe Steve or Scott have trained enough people that they have a better idea?

    I haven’t personally climbed an 8000m peak yet, I made an attempt in 2015 that got cut short by the big Nepalese earthquake, and I’m trying again this year.

    Regarding lifestyle, I quit my job in 2015, and have been training and climbing for most of the time since then. I got fitter, but got diminishing returns. I made a lot of fast progress for about 6 months, and then any improvements really slowed down a lot – I think I’m still making some year over year improvements, but it’s subtle and slow. So, I’m pretty sure you can pull off a big objective by focusing for 6 months, you don’t necessarily need a permanent lifestyle change.

    I don’t know anything about climbing routes like the Eiger. In my own experience, getting good at technical climbing is not that limited by time, it’s limited by finding reliable partners, by having nearby crags to practice at, by being careful not to injure yourself, and by being willing to continually push yourself on harder grades.

    Anonymous on #4929

    Gains come easier the less fit you are. The more fit you become the harder it is to make even small gains. If you keep doing the same training month after month, it will not longer be a sufficient stimulus and you need to find a new way to put the body into that crisis state that requires it to adapt in a new way. The simplest way is with increasing volume of course. That’s kind of a no brainer. Impose more stimulus of the same type and you will almost always see gain. Especially early in your athletic progression. However, you will eventually see the diminishing returns that Peter mentions above. Then you need to be creative in evaluating where the current weakest link in the chain is and address that with directed training. Finding that weak link and then figuring out the best way to address becomes increasingly difficult as an athlete becomes ever better. This is where experience counts a lot and why a high level athlete invariably employs a coach.

    Alpine climbing requires a huge skills repertoire and I differ with Peter in that I believe there is nothing more important in developing those skills than time spent practicing them. This can mean everything from top roping in the local gym to hacking out a bivy ledge on a steep slope.

    As far as a fitness metric. I can only give you some very rough guidelines based on the data we have collected for our own clients. Several metrics available on Training Peaks have allowed us to see some good correlation between CTL and readiness to climb big mountains. Bear in mind that CTL is only a measure of fitness and no guarantee of success. There are just too many variables to allow that prediction. Holding a CTL of over 100 for 2 months indicates a high enough work capacity to succeed on 8000m peaks. Holding a CTL above 100 for a month is probably enough for Denali. Multi day lower climbs like Rainier or Matterhorn are best done when fitness is above 80.

    For very high level climbers we work with and our top ultra runners we usually see peak CTL values of 130-15o before their main event for the year.

    When we folks only able to get their CTL to 50 we can be fairly certain that they will have lower success on even one and two day mountaineering routes.

    I hope this helps.

    sambedell on #4935


    I know CTL takes several factors into account, but maybe you could give an example of 100 CTL for those of us not familiar with it. Especially for someone who is following the training from TFNA and into the ME strength phase, say in the last 8 weeks of a 24 week cycle.

    jakob.melchior on #5040

    @Roger I’d say dream big but also put the necessary steps in motion to make it a goal instead of a dream. But it seems like you are doing that already.

    I am in a somewhat similar situation in aiming for the Eiger NF (within the next 2-3 years). Just with a big aerobic base after 15 years of competitive endurance sports and with less commitments (no kids).

    Since the endurance part is only part of the alpine preparation I am now focusing more on the technical skills. For me it is a bit of logistical challenge to find enough (fast)partners to log the milage.
    In am also based in Switzerland (Zürich) and always like to do tours with people who are training seriously as well. If you (or other people reading this) are interested in doing some D-TD climbs let me know (jakob(dot)melchior(at)gmx(dot)de )

    good luck and how is the training going so far?

    guythomasburton on #7558

    +1 to @sambedell it would be great to get some ballpark idea of what 100 CTL consists of in terms of volume for those of us who don’t use training peaks. It seems to be a moving average of TSS- anyone know if this is similar to Garmin’s “training effect” scoring (which I find to be a little questionable)? Scott, do you think TrainingPeaks is *the* way to get this kind of metric or is there a simplified way we could estimate?

    Anonymous on #7573

    Hi Roger. I only have one thing to add to the very good information already provided. You are talking about 4-6 years goals. As you said, you want to dream big, and, if you follow the advice here, you might make a plan, and start working. I would say, know that your goals might change. You are at a point in life where things evolve, slowly, subtly, but surely. You have a family and a job, but you yourself might change in this time. Therefore, your goals might change too. But that does not mean that you can’t start working–now. And just incorporate your changing goals as you go along.

    To you, and to Jakob.Melchior, I would also like to say that I am another climber, following Uphill Athlete principles, living in Swtzerland. Jakob is in Zurich–I am in Basel. Where are you, Roger? Perhaps we can have a small, Switzerland-based, Uphill Athlete mini-group? Our alpine climbing goals appear to be somewhat aligned, at least in terms of what we might try in the Alps. I’m focusing on ice climbing right now. In the spring I will be in Cham trying some alpine routes//goulottes/couloirs. In the summer I might shift to larger, technically easier, mountaineering objectives, or alpine rock climbs, depending on the conditions. I don’t really have a strong desire to do the Eiger NF, but I would love to do the Nollen route on the Monch–a route which appears to suit my strengths and ability. I know this is not a partner board, but if anybody is interested, feel free to contact me at brunoschull(at)gmail(dot)com.

    All the best,


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