Sunday, February 7, 2010

Training log: Mission Peak

My buddy Greg and I did Mission Peak yesterday. By now, I've been up Mission Peak many times, cuz it's a good training ground for scrambling up steep terrain, but it was my first summit of 2010, so that was cool, and although it's not a long climb, it's a steep-ish one. If you stick to the trails, you get vertical pretty quickly: 2200 feet in about 3 miles, but yesterday we were feeling ambitious, so we got off track a lot and pretty much went straight up the West face, which gave us the same elevation gain in about 2 miles, over some very steep terrain.

 We knew going into it that  rain was coming, but I decided long ago that  since expedition weather won't be ideal every climbing day either, I should just do my training climbs on the day they're scheduled, regardless of the weather report. (Besides, it gave me a chance to put some new pieces of First Ascent gear to the test, too haha) So we expected to get wet... and I was not disappointed. It started out mild, with some light drizzle in the staging area, but about halfway up the mountain, we ascended into a dense fog that obscured the normally-sweeping valley views.

We pushed into the steeps as much as possible, as I was loaded with 40-ish lb pack and wanted to get the most benefit possible. I should note that for training purposes, I've started intentionally loading my pack as awkwardly and as top-heavily as possible, so that when my life depends on getting up and down far bigger mountains safely with a properly loaded pack, I'll already be accustomed to carrying much worse. I'm thinking that kind of training will give me an advantage on balance and stability--and I figure a mountaineer should use every advantage they can get at altitude. I also like the idea of training to a standard of conditions well beyond what one would experience on bigger mountains or expeditions, and one's life may depend on that extra margin of safety someday. 

At only 40 lbs, my weighted pack training is just beginning, but I'll be pushing myself over the next few months before Alaska to be able to do full 13-hour day climbs over much greater elevation gain/loss with as much as 80-100 lbs. The day I can do that, I'll know I'm ready.

Anyway, as we approached the main summit ridge cliff face of Mission Peak, we decided to do some route-finding among the rocks, and spotted a way up through a very steep pitch of the upper mountain, which we attempted successfully. Here's me in the cliffs, loaded:

Climbing up the couloir, surmounting the last cliffs in the fog and rejoining the main trail above, we were swallowed whole by right-and-proper nasty weather on the remaining ascent to the summit. Winds whipped us at 30mph, hands began to get very cold, and the winds drove the rain and wet fog around us as the cloud layer we climbed in fairly flew past.

At the summit, a forgetful leaving open of the top compartment of my pack allowed rain and moisture to puddle in its exposed folds, leaving the stuff inside exposed to possible wet. It served me well as a reminder to pay attention at all times on any mountain. Mission Peak is the kind of place where a mistake like that is only a minor disturbance in the Force... no big deal (especially since we weren't staying on the mountain, so there was nothing but objects chosen solely for their weight in the pack). But at high altitude on big mountains, a simple mistake like a dropped glove can cost you a hand, a pack left open at the wrong time can cost you crucial equipment you might need later... equipment that could ultimately save your life. It provided some good lessons for me on how to deal with my gear in high winds, lessons on preparation for even the most seemingly-innocuous summit

I was surprised to discover how much easier this week's climb was over last. At just one training climb per week with a weighted pack at this stage of my training, I wasn't really expecting to see any significant differences in my performance from last week to this, but I was feeling significantly stronger, to the point where much of the time, I forgot I had the pack on. (That may also be at least partially attributable to the design of the First Ascent Big Tahoma pack suspension, as well.) Here's a fun pic from the descent...

At any rate, the ascent and summit weather made for a wet, mucky, and VERY fun afternoon, and I'm happy to report that all my FA gear passed with flying colors.
Climb high, sleep low, friends...

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