November 8, 2011
Part 2 of our week long series “From A Guide’s Perspective”, IMG Guide Chris Meder describes a few things that can make or break a climb.
Daily Expectations & Your Process
By Chris Meder
Mountaineering, like many challenging things we apply ourselves to in life, can bring some anxiety. Not knowing what the route looks like, an uncertain weather forecast, and not being sure of our physical fitness can all contribute to an unproductive sense of nervousness. As with most of these challenges, planning, preparation and knowledge can give you a hefty psychological advantage. That’s why it’s good to have an idea of what you can expect day to day in the mountains. Whether you’re just embarking on your mountaineering career with a first climb of Mt Rainier, or attempting a big peak in some remote location around the globe, the process of your day to day activities will be very similar. Here are some things to get you started in developing a mental model of what to expect from a day in the mountains, just about anywhere.
At its most basic, your daily routine will look something like this. Wake up reasonably early (dark and early for summit days), get dressed in clothing appropriate to the current weather, jumpstart the body with some breakfast, then attend to any camp chores before departing for the day. Once you’re walking or climbing, your goal is to move as efficiently as possible, moving at a consistent pace.
You want to focus on taking care of yourself, conserving precious energy as you go. This means stopping to eat and drink approximately every hour, even if you are not hungry. You’re not eating to satisfy a current hunger, but rather to keep the fire going throughout the day so that the body continually has reserves to draw upon. Stay ahead of the caloric and hydration curves.
Throughout the day, even while trying to move at a consistent pace, you will inevitably get hot or cold. Thermal equilibrium in the mountains is a myth; it’s just something we need to accept and deal with. The weather can change quickly, and the body’s heat output will do the same based on the terrain you’re traveling through, and how hard you’re working. Be flexible and do your best to anticipate what layers to wear for each part of the day, given the current weather and your current temperature. Your guide will help with this clothing selection, but spend some time at home becoming familiar with your layering system to aid in this process. Eventually, you will come to know exactly what layers to wear for a particular part of the day. No problem if you choose incorrectly, just make a mental note and adjust next time. Your goal with all of this is to manage your body temperature effectively—not sweating profusely or shivering uncontrollably—which will in turn conserve energy.
At the end of the traveling portion of the day, you’ll pull into camp. It’s time to put on some warm clothes, probably that big puffy jacket you’ve been carrying. Tasks you’ll want to attend to in the evening are establishing a solid camp (done as a group on IMG trips), drying out any wet clothes, and continuing to hydrate and eat. After dinner and enjoying your surroundings for a bit, get to bed at a decent hour to rest up. The more time you can spend lying down, the more opportunity the body has to recover. Fortunately, this applies to a certain degree even if you are not sleeping.
So whether you’re on Mt Rainier or any other mountain in the world, this general daily process will be roughly the same. Throughout the day, and over the course of any trip, you want to approach the climb as you would any long term goal. The mind has knowledge of the final objective, but its best to break the journey down into discrete, manageable chunks. On day one, it can be counterproductive to fixate on the summit. It’s helpful if you take the climb one day at a time. Focus on the immediate goal for the day. You can gain an idea of the day’s itinerary from your guide or your research, but you need to remain flexible with that vision as the day’s plans often change in the mountain environment. Executing that itinerary successfully, while taking care of yourself, is your goal for the day. Take each day as it comes, and enjoy the process. Before you know it, you’ve amassed a number of successful victories in the journey to the summit and back!
Up next for Chris: Vinson down in Antarctica later this week, his first trip onto the ice.