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So how do you train for a climb like Denali? Well, you don’t do it like me! You should spend a good 6 months to a year steadily increasing your training to avoid injury and prepare for the strains and pains for this type of climb. Steep inclines, long days, all while carrying everything you need (up to 60-80 lbs of gear and pulling another heavy load in a sled behind you) 14,000 feet up the mountain.
Here is my dilemma; I have less than 2 months to train, I have a chronic back injury and I’m soon to be 50. Ouch, ouch, and bigger ouch! The good side is that the one thing that has always got me through any climb has been my ability to accept (and sometimes turn off) the pain and how to be efficient. This last part, efficiency, is absolutely key. Done right it will take what energy you have and almost double your ability with half the effort.
I will train, but I will train cautiously. I don’t want to injure myself before I arrive. Fortunately I still have some reserve strength left over from last years climbs, and I know my limit when it comes to training with a heavy pack, but I still need to be very careful and listen to my body. With my back injuries, the way I adjust my pack can mean the difference between a well-conformed “Back Brace” or a torture device! Sometimes when you throw you pack on it feels just right, other times your fighting with every strap to get it right. This is just the nature of the beast. I’m currently training with about 80 lbs in the same pack I will carry on the climb. Ohio is flat, so I am just focused on spreading out a 4-mile hike over about 1 and half hours. My focus is more on my back than for climbing. I know my ability for moving up the hill, but what kills my energy is if I am constantly fighting and fidgeting with my pack, which keeps me from getting into an energy conserving rhythm.
There is a lot to think about and pay attention to during your climb, steady efficient steps, managing the rope you are tied into, rhythmic breathing, watching for crevasses and other hazards, but every now and then when you look up at the beauty surrounding you, for that brief moment all the pain goes away and you realize why you are there.
I am a mountaineer, I love climbing, I love the challenge, I love the camaraderie, I love the humbling I receive from being such a small speck in such a vast environment. Last year when I launched on these major climbs it had been almost 10 years since I had last climbed, but I found renewed purpose and meaning behind why I do it now. The honor I have been given to carry the “Silently Fallen” flag is deeper than you can imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I said I love climbing, but now there is a much more important reason to do it beyond my own selfish desire. To honor these lost brothers and sisters and to give them a voice to help save some of the over 8000 veterans we lose each year to suicide.
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