Let me break your question into parts, and try to re-state the questions as best I can.
First off, my answers assume that your SKILLS are equal or better than they need to be for your climbing objectives. Skill and fitness are best TRAINED separately as we’ve discussed here:
and many more examples are here:
First paragraph: There are two things at play here as far as I can tell, one is wanting to climb and be outside, and you also touch on the gym. First the gym. Strength training is a critical part of endurance training. You can think of the Uphill Athlete / Training for the New Alpinsm version of strength training as the ‘neurological’ aspect of endurance training. Meaning we as athletes and coaches are careful to not build un-necessary muscle mass, but introduce a structured and carefully progressive strength training regime into the training plan that, through primarily neurological adaptations, allows you to be stronger for the same weight and size. The gym is critical for this because only in the weight gym can you do the necessary slight increases in weight every week. Without this progression (by this I mean increasing weight) in the exercises you do no adapt, do not progress, and do not get fitter. So setting aside 2 days for strength training, if you want to improve, is crucial.
Second par to the first paragraph: Wanting to be outside. Given your location, you can do all your aerobic training on the trails around Bozeman. You don’t need to ever set foot on a treadmill or any of the other tools a city-based climber has to do. We have advised a lot of climbers in places like Hong Kong and London. You’re lucky, get out there and explore those mountains on foot.
Second paragraph: How valuable is climbing and ice climbing?
You can absolutely use these as zone 1 workouts and I have done this many, many, many times myself. You have to understand how your body becomes fitter, which is a complex topic of course. But the key point is that aerobic fitness responds first and foremost to frequency. So 4 aerobic workouts per week of a total of 6 hours, are much better than one 6 hour hike on Sunday. The former is training and the later does nothing for your fitness. Scott wrote a great piece about this phenomenon here:
So to apply this to your climbing: Say you want to climb 2 days a week. Then make one of those your long aerobic day. 50% of the total weekly training volume. The other climbing day can be shorter, aerobically. then add in two more runs or other uphill hiking, etc, and you’re training plan is sketched out for that week. The trick, and what takes real discipline, is to progress this training time over time so that your fitness progresses. Randomized exercise, some weekends being huge, others being easy, is not training, it’s exercise and is fun and will help you train skills, but it is not going to benefit your fitness in a significant way compared to the approach we outline and teach.
Last paragraph: Long days in the mountains.
Absolutely you should incorporate big mountain days into any training plan for any alpine objective. The key is to plan them out at the right time. As you’ll recall we advocate what is often called a “specific period” for (typically) 4-6 weeks before your taper starts during which you rest and reach peak fitness. This is the time during which you want to program/plan these longer climbs and adventures. There are, as you say, mental benefits, and many other benefits as well. These climbs should look as much like your climbs/adventures in Patagonia as is possible.
As an aside, before going to K7 in 2004 (In my fourth year of organized training, and so with a huge base) I did a prolonged specific period, climbing for 4 weeks in Canada, including climbing North Twin. In 2005 I did a five week trip to Peru with a one-month break before going to Nanga Parbat. In both cases I tried, and largely succeeded, in doing the biggest, hardest, most demanding climbs at the ends of these trips. Then I came back, tapered, and headed off for my A-priority climbing trip of the year. This is exactly what you can do.
Though in your case, I believe that climbing in Hyalite won’t be enough, but doing some huge approaches into the Beartooths and nabbing some winter ascents during some of those short December days will most likely make a lot of your Patagonian adventures feel familiar, if not downright easy. At least it won’t be as cold and snowy and the rock quality will be better. Remember that not having to even think about, or waste mental energy on cold, darkness, snow, rock quality, etc., will let you focus on the parts of your Patagonian goals that are most challenging to you at the time. And this is what training does. It frees your mind to concentrate on the difficult and challenging parts of the task, whether it’s fitness or self-care in extreme cold, the less mental energy you have to expend on that component, the better you will be able to climb and the more success you will see.
I hope that helps,
Thanks for posting!