Re-uploading the photos at a smaller file size…
Hi UA community! I just wanted to share some appreciation for the contribution that TFTNA and the UA website made to my successful climb of Mt St Elias (18,008′) this past June. I felt the strongest I ever have on this expedition, and credit that to what I’ve learned from the book and website.
My partner and I got flown via helicopter from Yakutat, AK to the shore of Icy Bay. We were able to drop our food and climbing gear 2300′ and 6 miles above us, which allowed us to hike and skin from the beach to our food cache on our first day. From there we double-carried to 10,500′ in just 4 days. We took one rest day at 10,500′ to help us acclimatize, then had a weather window that we couldn’t pass up. We climbed to 13,100′ with three days of food and fuel, then summitted in an 18 hour push (camp to camp) the next day.
On the descent we opted to downclimb the 40-60 degree summit headwall due to our exhaustion, low light, and sneaky patches of ice hidden amongst the faceted powder. We skied from 16,200′ back to camp at 13, then skied from 13 down to 7800′. We downclimbed 900′ of 40-50 degree icy runnels in the milk jug couloir, then skied from 6900′ all the way down to the snow line at 2300′.
I’ve been an avid backcountry skier/ski mountaineer for 10 years now. For 9 of those years my “training” was just going skiing (and rock climbing, hiking, and trail running in the off season). I thought that the key to fitness was continually increasing my volume of those activities. This worked up to a point, but in the several seasons before this year I felt like I had hit a plateau.
I was given a copy of TFTNA 1.5 years ago and have since read it cover to cover twice, as well as most of the articles posted on UA. Going into this past ski season I created a training plan for myself. My base period didn’t look too different from previous winters, as it still had an emphasis on just going skiing. However I was more intentional about gradually increasing my ski touring volume throughout the winter. I also added a basic strength routine to my regimen, something that had been completely lacking in my training in past seasons.
The biggest changes I made were in the specific period, which I scheduled from 9-2.5 weeks prior to the start of my trip. I structured this period quite similarly to the plan that Scott Johnston outlined in TFTNA before his trip to K2, with one big vert day with a heavy pack, one day skinning at my maximum sustainable pace for an hour, and one big ski mountaineering objective per week. Between those I included mostly easy/recovery workouts, one strength workout per week, and rest. My specific period culminated with a trip to Rainier, on which my partner and I summitted via the Ingraham Direct over two days, rested for a day, then summitted via the Fuhrer Finger in a single day.
An interesting side note is that I also felt better at elevation than I ever have before. In the past I have tended to acclimatize more slowly than my climbing partners. After years of reading and hearing that you can’t do much to affect your performance at altitude, I read somewhere on the UA website this year that increasing your lactate threshold heartrate may be the one piece of the acclimatization puzzle that you can affect by training (besides training at altitude). In previous seasons I have done a very high volume of zone 1/2 training with little to no high-intensity work. Maybe the addition of one zone 3/4 workout per week in my specific period this year improved my lactate threshold and thus allowed me to perform better at altitude? (Unfortunately I don’t have any hard data as to how my lactate threshold did/did not change during my specific period.)
I’m not sure that I would have been able to complete this climb and descent of St. Elias in the style/duration in which we did without the training tools and techniques I learned about in TFTNA. Like I said, I have never felt stronger than I did leading up to and during this expedition. Even with that this trip pushed me to my physical limits, more than any other trip I have been on. I feel like I used every drop I had in the tank to pull this off. Thanks for creating this resource for the mountain community!
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