November 11, 2011
Part 5 of our week long series “From A Guide’s Perspective”, IMG Guide Max Bunce talks about some key components to any successful outdoor adventure.
4 Keys to a Successful Climb
By Max Bunce
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Many times in my life I have failed on a climb almost certainly because I was dehydrated. Hydrating comes in three phases. Pre-hydrating, hydrating during the climb and post-hydrating. Pre-hydrating starts the night before, usually tapering down at night so that I am not up all night going to the bathroom. In the morning I start back up again with at least a liter before the climb starts. During a climb, I usually drink no more that 2 liters of water, keeping in mind that water is heavy and drinking takes time. You might be dehydrated by the end of the day, but something’s gotta give! Hydration bladders are nice because you can drink water more continuously but they don’t work in all situations. The number one reason not to use a bladder in the mountains is that they freeze. The second reason is that they seem to leak more often than a regular water bottle. During a classic rock climb called the Petit Grepon in Rocky Mountain National Park our party decided to bring most of our water in one 100 oz. bladder. Two pitches up, I felt a wetness on my back and to my dismay I found that our water drained into my backpack because the hose got pulled off. We climbed the rest of the day with no water causing us to move slower and make less than ideal decisions. We made it out safely but that little mistake could have cost us! Post climb is also a very important time to hydrate. Downing a liter in the 2 hours after the climb increases recovery and may make the difference for the next days climb. Remember beer is not a substitute for water but if you have to, drink light beer!
Tell me if this sounds familiar? You have been hiking all day with friends or a loved one and sometime later in the day you get in a fight about the most trivial thing. This is almost certainly due to a lack of blood glucose. It happens to everyone and it is caused by burning through all your food energy. Simple solution, eat more! The problem is many people aren’t hungry so they don’t eat. As a guide this is one of our “red flags”. It’s a complete no brainer, if someone is not eating and they are burning calories, eventually they will crash. A good rule of thumb is to eat at every break. One common question is what to eat? The short answer is whatever you like best. I would go with foods that you eat on a regular basis, things you know that you like. Here, weight is less important than finding quality food that you like. Finally eating lots of high sugar food right after a climb is a good idea. It has been shown in many studies that eating or drinking so called “fast” carbohydrates immediately after exercise helps recovery. This is when I go to my favorite candy, sour patch kids.
3. Pace Yourself.
Pace often contributes to whether a climb is successful or not. Going too slow can cause a party to be out for too long and eventually either runout of energy or daylight. Going too fast can cause you to go “anaerobic” and burnout fast. Finding the happy medium is one of the hardest skills for a climber to master. In my experience folks seem to start out too fast and burn themselves out. Keep in mind that if you are doing a 3 day climb you need to keep a pace for three days not just one. One example of this is watching young, fit, independent climbers on Rainier run up to Muir on the first day, only to hit the wall on summit day and have all the guided teams pass them on the way to the summit.
4. Efficient Layering
Layering can be tricky. During a typical climb I am both extremely hot and very cold in the same day. The key to efficient layering is to pay attention to your surroundings so that you can “forecast” the weather for the next section of the climb. Let’s look at a few examples: 1. It has been bitterly cold before the sun comes up but you notice that there is no wind or clouds, obviously we would want to dress lighter leaving a rest break if the sun is about to hit you. 2. You have been climbing in a protected couloir and you are about to hit the ridge, you notice a plume of snow coming off the ridge due to wind. The smart move would be to layer up before you get to the ridge so that you don’t waste precious energy trying to layer up in the wind and cold. 3. Finally, on your descent you notice the sun just went down and it is getting colder. It would be wise to layer up right away before you get cold, saving yourself from getting cold in the first place. Keep in mind that from an energy standpoint it is a lot easier to stay warm than to warm yourself back up.