Weighted Hills program for Denali WB

  • Creator
  • #4598

    Hoping to tap into the knowledge pool of this excellent forum resource for some feedback on my weighted hills training schedule.

    I’m headed off to Denali (from sea level, North Vancouver) in June to attempt the WB route. This is my first foray into climbing at altitude above 4000m. I’ve been using the TFTNA book for the past few years now with excellent results (thank you Scott and Steve for this fantastic system). This will be my third full training period using the full ~32 week periods method outlined in the book. For this one, I’m using the weighted hills program as my main focus for developing the end of my base and shortened specific period. In the book is Steve’s weighted hills routine for Makalu 2008. This schedule had Steve building up to a max weight of 36 lbs for the 1524m (5000′) days, then dropping down to 30 lbs for the moves up to 2743m (9000′). I’m assuming this lowering of weight as the training elevation increases has to do with carrying less the higher up on the mountain he was? I used this as a rough guide for my own WB hills schedule, coupled with the Denali “fast ascent” acclimatization schedule in the book which outlines that beyond the 14k camp I’ll not be moving camp to 17k and thus will only be carrying a day pack above 14k for acclimatization day trips and the final summit day push from 14 camp.

    I’ve built my weighted hills schedule where I used the 150% vertical x 100% weight on heaviest day methodology, which builds up to training weeks 5-6 emulating the full camp move days with the most vertical gain (1700m carrying 24kg), and weeks 9-10 training the summit day (2700m w/ 16kg).

    My long winded question is, am I better served by maintaining the 24kg load in the pack, or should I keep it the way it is and drop the weight in the later training weeks favouring more altitude gain carrying less weight? I’m weary to loose weight-bearing leg strength over the final 6 weeks and then not be fully prepared for the 7k, 11k, 14k camp moves on-mountain. I suppose one answer is to carry the full 24kg up to higher training elevations, but I’m already feeling like I’m approaching my max training threshold with 1700m x 24kg. For reference, my schedule as it stands now is below. I am just completing week 6 this weekend. So far feeling great (and good-tired) and have kept to the schedule and the rest of the training almost exactly.

    Week 1: 2x 800m w/ 12kg (2600ft x 26lbs)
    Week 2: 2x 1000m w/ 14kg (3300ft x 30lbs)
    Week 3-4: 2x 1200m w/ 18kg (3900ft x 39lbs)
    Week 5-6: 2x 1700m w/ 24kg (5600ft x 53lbs)
    Week 7-8: 2x 2100m w/ 20kg (6900ft x 44lbs)
    Week 9-10: 2x 2700m w/ 16kg (8900ft x 35lbs)
    Week 11-12: Taper and fly out to Anchorage.



  • Participant
    Peter Hamel on #4600

    I feel like you need to train your body for two separate things, to climb Denali in this style.

    On the lower mountain, you need to be able to carry a very heavy load, maybe 50 pounds in the pack and 50 in your sled, but the total vertical gain per day isn’t large, you’ll climb 3000 feet at most. To train for this part, my hill climbs were usually only 3000′ of gain, but I always used 50 pounds or sometimes more in my backpack. Some people say you want to train your muscles specifically for the sled dragging, but I didn’t find that essential.

    For summit day, you need to be able to gain 6000′, at high altitude, but maybe only 10 pounds on your back. Scott says in TFTNA that he can do that in 5 hours up and 2 hours down, but I think that’s incredibly fast, it took my group almost twice that. You won’t be limited by leg strength but by general aerobic fitness. The best way to train for a day like that is to go and spend a lot of hours continuously moving on a mountain.

    So, I’d think one answer to your question would be to do one of your carries each week shorter and heavier and make one day lighter but longer.

    I think I’d probably injure myself by trying to do two 7000-9000′ gain days each week with a heavy pack, but maybe fitter people can get away with that.

    Hopefully Scott or Steve can give a better answer.

    Anonymous on #4607

    Thanks for the reply Peter, that’s exactly the kind of info I was hoping to get. It’s funny, alternating two different hill workouts in a week never occurred to me. Does seem like that would be a good way to maintain leg strength for the heavy camp carry days while also working on long, vertical gain endurance for the summit day. I’ll try that out. I wonder how important training with a sled is if I’m doing my 50lb pack days on a ~40 degree slope for 1700m. I imagine that would be more difficult than that pack plus weighted sled on a lower degree slope, but maybe I’m wrong. I’ve also been training ski touring laps with weight in the pack to get used to being on skis with more weight than usual (mainly for the down).

    Anonymous on #4624

    Peter has a good suggestion for mixing the vertical during the day. You definitely want have the pack mule legs to do the grunt work to get to 14k without feeling worked. If you arrive at 14k tired you will really struggle on your single push summit day. Especially if this is your first foray to altitude.

    You’ll be carrying 20+kg and pulling another 15-20kg in the sled up to 14k. You want to be well enough supplied that you can wait out the weather and make all the short acclimatization day climbs. If you have the kinds of leg strength/endurance that these weighted climb days give you then the summit day you will be not taxed muscularly.

    Here is what I did before K2, and this became the basis for Steve’s weight climb training a few years later: One heavy day/week with big vert. My biggest day was 7000ft with about 40lbs. Then one long day with moderate elevation like 3-4000ft with not much weight (20lb max). I did the long one on skis.

    I have used this same method with many other climbers since. One heavy day with big vert + one long day with moderate vert and weight. The rest of the week is made up of all easy aerobic runs and some general strength in a gym.

    Glad to hear you are taking skis. That will save you a great deal of energy on the way to 14k and will make the acclimatization days up there much more fun.

    Sounds like you are going at it the right way.

    Anonymous on #4636

    Thanks so much for the reply Scott. I’ve update my schedule to reflect the advice you and Peter have given me. I re-read the section in TFTNA on your K2 specific period — super helpful.

    It’s really amazing to feel the effects of this training approach directly in my ability to climb/ski mountains with noticeably less effort. I’m really excited to see how I feel after this period’s taper.


    Steve House on #4641

    Good luck and let us know how it goes @zswinston

    Anonymous on #4651

    Thanks Steve, will do!

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