Solid planning and training makes for a high-level summit experience.
By Keegan Dimmick
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~ John Muir
Climbing the West Ridge (5.6) of Mt. Conness has been a dream of mine for a few years. Mt. Conness is 12,590 feet tall, with a proud, south-facing summit wall. This past summer, my climbing partner and I had the good fortune to stand on that summit. Amid clear skies and tired legs I found myself to be extremely grateful for the experience. The experience also taught me a lot about what it takes to accomplish such a fete. Here are my tips to help you find success for your summits.
Finding a partner that wants to share in your adventures can be tough. It’s important to look for someone who believes in the mission and is dedicated to success. Don’t forget that success usually means getting home safely. Climb together a few times. Learn each other’s strengths and nuances. Going on a trip means spending a lot of time talking and learning about each other.
Weather is the largest factor that’s not in your control. The mountains can bring conditions that change rapidly and you will need to be prepared to handle nature’s challenges. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- What weather risks exist in the area you will travel to?
- Do you have protection from the wind?
- Do you have protection from the sun?
- Have you checked the weather forecast?
- What materials are your clothing made of? Will those materials protect you from the elements?
Carrying gear over extended hours can be grueling. Are you physically prepared for the challenge? When doing practice hikes it’s extremely important to carry a pack that mimics your climbing gear. Be prepared for 6,000+ feet of elevation gain which means train on hills on hills on hills. Good cardio is not enough; you must be prepared for hills and the slow grind. Do you have experience climbing a route for 3-5 hours? It can be helpful to run laps on easy terrain in the gym or at you local crag to build up endurance and prepare your body.
There is no substitute for training at altitude. I would recommend taking at least one to two trips to 10,000+ feet of elevation in the week before your summit. San Jacinto is a great place to train for higher elevations, and is only a two hour drive from San Diego. Hike or run a few times between 5,000-6,000 feet to build a solid base. My favorite place to visit is the Lagunas; there are miles of trails to be explored less than an hour drive from San Diego.
Food is great, energy is better. It can take a long time for your body to turn dense foods into energy. I’ve found success with gel packs and energy chews. Although they aren’t fulfilling, your body will appreciate the easy-to-process calories. A GPS-enabled watch will help you keep an accurate count on calories burned so you can refuel accordingly. Also: water, water, water. Make sure you have a reliable container. I recommend a Platypus bladder system or collapsable bottles. Carrying water can be a burden on the body so bring a lightweight water filter or sanitizing tablets to lighten your load. Make sure you drink water every 15 minutes and don’t allow yourself to run out.
Have you envisioned success? Do you believe in yourself? Are you honest about the difficulty of the goal and your capabilities? It can be hard to stay positive on long, strenuous days. Remember that reaching the summit is not success; success is returning home safely and enjoying the journey. Don’t allow your ego to put you in a dangerous situation—not summiting is not the end of the journey.