Technical training when you live far from big mountains

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  • #4266

    I live in the Mid-Atlantic region where I essentially have to get on a plane if I want to go alpine climbing. It being that I work a regular job, I have very limited opportunities each year to go alpine climbing (essentially one trip to the greater ranges, usually the Cordillera Blanca, and one short trip within North America, excluding Alaska).

    I find that I can get in plenty of time to train each week (7-15 hours), and I am able to get a solid balance of aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and muscular endurance training. Essentially my training for those areas is composed of running (road and trails), weight lifting, and hiking/backpacking. Where I feel that I lack the most opportunity is in the technical training.

    It isn’t too difficult for me to get to the climbing gym each week. There are also a few places I can climb top rope outside. However, if I want to do trad or ice climbing, I have to make a serious weekend trip out of it, and the ice climbing season is very short. Therefore, I have very limited experience in these forms of climbing.

    I am only 26, but I want to make the most out of my alpine climbing trips by being more prepared, in order for me and my climbing partner to climb harder and more interesting routes. After all, I only have so many of these trips before I get old (that said, age doesn’t seem to be a huge limiting factor e.g., Mick Fowler, Marko Prezelj).

    So, my question is if anyone knows of ways that I can be more prepared in terms of technical ability when it comes to difficult alpine climbs? Is this a reasonable concern of mine? I do not want to get in over my head attempting routes I really should not be. As Steve says, “don’t epic it.”

    The obvious answer is for me to move, which I do plan to do. However, it will still be a couple of years before I am able to do so. I study a lot of the more technical aspects of alpine climbing and how to read avalanche conditions and weather patterns from books, but a book only does so much.

    It may be that I am just SOL due to location, but I figured I would throw the question out there, as it is something I spend A LOT of time thinking about.

    Thank you!

Posted In: Alpinism

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    sambedell on #4274

    Mike, if there are cliffs and rocks near your house you can practice skills. Aid bouldering, dry tooling, building anchors and rapping followed by TR soloing on that line. If you don’t know what those things are then look them up… lots of good info on the internet for the discerning reader. Training is a lot of working on weaknesses so if you can run 20 miles in zone 1 and do laps on 5.11 at the gym then consider spending a day each week doing technical practice. Search maps for cliff bands, bridges, campsites. Go camping on the coldest day of the year with your alpine kit, even if it’s car camping.

    Anonymous on #4278

    Hi Mike,

    First, good job on your approach. It seems like you have as many bases covered as you can, given where you live.

    Second, I think you’ve realized the next best thing: moving to the mountains.

    By moving to a climbing-centric place, you’ll be gaining something even more advantageous than easy access to ice and traditional rock: a climbing community. Especially if the community is highly skilled (on average), your exposure to good climbers will do wonders for both your technical skills and self-confidence in alpine terrain.

    My recommendation is to find out what small mountain town has the highest concentration of world-class alpine climbers in it and move there. If it’s a small town, then the community will be small and easier to break into.

    I made a similar decision when I was 26, and it made all the difference. Good luck!


    Steve House on #4340

    I agree with the sediments expressed above. But motivation is a strong thing. Scott Backes, one of my oldest climbing partners, has lived his whole life in Minneapolis, not exactly a climbing-hub. But he was able to become a good climber. I think establishing a climbing-skills/movement-base with regular (as possible) rock climbing is your best bet. Once you have those skills, you’ll have them for life. So climbing gym? Yes! Any and all forms of climbing available to you? Yes!

    And then, there is always the climbing trip. I don’t know your work/life situation of course, but one way you can turn your disadvantage into an advantage is to travel to as many differently places to climb as possible. I think diversity in experience makes for a good alpinist, and is something many climbers overlook in their personal development. Of course this is time/budget limited. A good alpinist, as I like to say, is like a good decathlete, you have to be able to do everything fairly well, but specialize in nothing. You need to climb limestone, granite, gneiss, trad, sport, ice, mixed, snow, ridges, faces, forecast weather on the go, and be able to pick a safe route to climb on any given day. Travel and exposure to many different places, and many different ways to see and climb in the mountains, will hurry you along your path to becoming an alpinist.

    Consider that it may be cheaper to fly to Geneva and spend a week camped up above Chamonix than it would be to drive to Yosemite. For a lot of climbers on the East coast the Alps are a much better/cheaper/faster climbing destination than the western US or Canada.

    Lastly, Scott S.’s point above, finding community, is an important one.

    Hope that helps. Keep up the fitness and I’ll look for you in the hills

    mikecochran on #4376

    Thank you all very much for the advice. It is reassuring to hear that location does not have to hinder you completely. Scott Backes is quite the accomplished alpinist.

    Sam–I am not familiar with aid bouldering (although it makes sense when you say it) as well as TR soloing. I need some more gear for TR soloing but will get to it asap.

    Scott–I’ve very much noted the importance of a good climbing community. I have difficulty finding climbers as motivated to get out there as me–it is only so fun when you are pushing yourself the whole time.

    Steve–Never really thought about diversity in climbing locations and it’s benefits. I have noted that some alpinists tend to specialize in certain ranges (David Roberts and Alaska come to mind). Your logic makes good sense. After my next trip in the Cordillera Blanca this June/July, I’ll be sure to switch it up.

    Thanks again everyone. Your thoughts are much appreciated as this was a question that had been on my mind quite a lot lately.

    hafjell on #9856

    Mike, make sure you are 100% sure you understand how to rig and use a solo TR. It’s pretty straightforward, but there are some nuances (need to pull the rope through the belay system down low, lots of rope drag at the top, what to use as and how to back up the top rope line, climbing on a rope that is fixed to the anchor, how to escape the belay safely if you can’t pull the crux move, etc.)
    I’d consider having a guide go through it with you, or, at minimum, presenting your process to a more experience TR solo-er before you go.

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