This blog has now moved to:
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Unless I'm using poles for skiing or hiking, I often get tingling in my finger tips while carrying a heavy pack. It turns out I'm not alone and the problem may be more than a minor nuisance, loss of fine motor control and increased fatigue may also be problems. Last month, a paper was presented at a meeting of the American Physiological Society that demonstrated how much even a moderate pack affects blood flow.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
I've been asked a number of times about the value of CrossFit style training for climbers. For those unaware, this is one of the latest fads to emerge in the fitness world (every few years, there is always something "new and improved" to entice the public and media). I address this subject in the second edition of my book Climbing: Training for Peak Performance, which is now off to the printer. Here is the excerpt:
Training CultsNote that although I mention CrossFit, I'm really talking about all of the heavily hyped training programs (kettlebells, Indian clubs, whatever comes out next year) that get discussed on the Net and in the general media. Elsewhere in my book I discuss how they all work, to some degree, if you keep with them. But the bigger question is what is the most time efficient training for you.
A recent trend in the past few years has been the emergence of training cults, with adherents that gush on and on about how their method is the “best” and anything else is garbage training. The best known of these is CrossFit, which is essentially a business franchise masquerading as new fitness program.
That is not to say CrossFit is all bad. Indeed, there are some very good aspects that the individual trainers, gyms and the web sites offer. Perhaps the most valuable part of the CrossFit program is motivation that comes from the camaraderie. The underlying principle of high-intensity cross training is also reasonably sound, though hardly new or innovative, and can lead to solid fitness gains if used wisely.
However, there is also a high risk of acute injury from many of the exercises, some of which are completely unnecessary. Due to the frequent high intensity of the workouts, there is a potential for chronic fatigue without a good athletic base. And no generic program will ever produce the results of a well-structured training program tailored to the needs and goals of the individual.
The forums, newsletters, and certification materials contain good information scattered with unscientific nonsense about physiology and nutrition. This misinformation may not cause harm but it certainly doesn’t help. The trainers only take a 2-day class with no written exam for certification, which is very weak comparatively (see “Trainers” in Chapter 6 for more details).
If you educate yourself about the pros and cons of CrossFit, or similar concepts, and need the motivation of that style of training, the workouts and gyms can be helpful. For those adopting a periodized training program, high-intensity cross training during the power endurance phase could lead to serious strength gains. However, drinking the Kool-Aid and joining a training cult on a year-round basis may not be in your best interests in the long run.
And before you point at Mark Twight and his Gym Jones program, notice that he has pulled the videos from his site and has come nearly full circle in his thinking on endurance training. Gym Jones was always more sophisticated than generic CrossFit and Mark is refining the programs even more. Also notice that Rob Shaul at Mountain Athlete goes far beyond basic CrossFit by addressing the needs of climbers, though I believe he is under-rating the value of endurance training. Both Mark and Rob realize that general physical preparedness can only get you part way to your goals.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Even though I've long been a helmet advocate for many outdoor sports (biking, climbing, skiing, etc.), I've also been vocal about how inadequate most helmet really are. For starters, most of the ones commonly worn do not prevent concussion, contrary to popular belief. Of course helmets can only withstand a certain amount of force too, often far less than many people realize. So the bottom line is, helmets or not, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are still going to happen.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Now that the Chinese are in Base Camp on the North side for their attempt to get an Olympic torch to the summit, I thought some of you would be interested in the story of their first climb. For decades, Westerners doubted the claim that the Chinese had summited Everest in 1960. Eventually, enough convincing evidence was provided that they were grudgingly given credit but there have been few good accounts of that expedition.
The following is an excerpt from a book published in 1993 by Shu Ren, "Records of Exploration by the Chinese." The translation was provided by my friend Tuan Luong and I've cleaned it up a bit. If anything, it speaks to the determination of the Chinese...you can bet good money that they will get that torch to the top this season, no matter what it takes.
In 1958, 100 experienced mountaineers of the Soviet Union wrote letters to the head of the Soviet and PRC, proposing a joint assault on Mt Qomolungma (aka Everest). An agreement was made between the governments.
The Chinese assembled their team, which went to the Soviet Union to train in August 1958. 17 summitted Lenin Peak (7134 m) in Sept. At the end of 1958 a reconnaissance team reached 6,500 m.
According to agreement the Soviet was to provide equipment. The Chinese constructed a 300 km road from Shigatse to Rongbuk Monastery.
1959 March, uprising broke out Tibet. Climbing was postponed.
End of 1959, the two countries became hostile due to ideological disagreement. The Soviet withdrew form the expedition. The Chinese decided to do it alone. Team leader Shi Zhanchun went to Switzerland to buy equipment.
On March 19, 1960, the base camp was established at the end of the Rongbuk Glacier. Shi and vice leader Xu Jing had done five years of mountaineering and climbed quite a few peaks in China. The team members were from all walks of life — miners, forest workers, soldiers, peasants, scientists, and college students.
The weather was bad. Logistics support was a feat. Meteorology and high altitude medical data were collected.
A siege strategy was planned to carry out the climb in four acclimatizing climbs:
1) BC-> 6,400m ->BC
4) BC-> 8,500 camp -> summit
The entire team started from BC.
Reached the 5,900m camp.
Found a mummified unrecognizable body in English made green down suit. Buried it. They reached 6,400m. Back to BC.
Xu, Liu Dayi, Peng Shuli, and other four reached the North Col (aka Bei’ao, 7,007 m) in a day. It was technically difficult. Xu later went up again with another team to fix ropes and ladders across crevasses.
The bulk of the team started from 6,400 m to reach the North Col. Attempt to reach further was stopped by very bad weather. Wang Ji died of mountain sickness.
The entire team started from the North Col. -37C. Soft snow. Frostbite. Zhao Ziqing died. Liu Lianman (a porter) chopped steps for the team with 30 kg pack on his back all the way. Reached 7,600 m.
Shi, Xu, Laba, and Myma went up to 8,100 m. In order to acclimatize they didn’t use their O2. Reached camp after dark. No food left. (Support team didn’t follow up.) Laba and Myma went back to 7,600 camp. Food was sent to the high camp over-night.
The team passed the First Step and the Yellow Band. Shi and Wang Fengtong went past the reconnaissance point and reached the Second Step. It was a 60 to 70 degree smooth rock face about 100 feet high, almost devoid of holds.
Shi and Wang climbed to somewhere near the top of the second step when it was getting dark (13 hours UT). Decided to bivy so they could see what it looked like to go to the summit from there the next day. They dug out a snow hole in a crack between rocks. The temperature was -40 C. No food. They didn’t use oxygen, saving it for the next day (a first time at that altitude).
Clear. The Summit was about 700 feet higher. They found a route and went down.
Many team members were sick or injured. Shi and Wang went back to Shigatse and Lhasa to recover. Time flew by. Spirit at the base camp was going down. Beijing sent instruction: Get the summit at any cost. Han Fudong, the head at the BC, talked to the team members and assembled a group, including Wang Fuzhou, Kongbu (with a sprained ankle), and Liu Lianman.
During a good weather spell, equipment and food was sent to 7,600 camp.
The team swore at the BC. Depart at 1 hour UT. With the national flag of China, they also carried a plaster statue of Mao Zhedong.
Reached Camp 4.
Porter Qu Yinhua carried oxygen and a movie camera to the 8,500 camp. He planned to go down after shooting some footage the next day. Food had run out that night.
Good weather. Vice leader Xu collapsed at the camp. Wang, Liu, Qu, and Kongbu started the last 1,200 feet, carrying oxygen, the flag, Mao’s statue, paper, pencil, and the movie camera.
Two hours later they reached the Second Step exhausted. Tried to circumvent. Didn’t work. Zigzagged to the middle of it, where they found a crack. Decided to climb it.
Liu climbed to about 10 feet from the top. The face became vertical and smooth. He hand jammed, with boot tips smearing on the face. Fell four times.
Liu, who used to be fire fighter from the city of Harbin, proposed Qu to stand on his shoulder so that he can push Qu up. Qu took off his boots to get up, and nailed in a piton in the crack. He lost his toes and heel to frostbite during the feat. (The same piton was used 15 years later to hang a rope ladder.) Then Liu pushed Kongbu up and went up himself with Wang on rope.
It had taken them 3 hours to do the last 10 feet of the Second Step. Not much oxygen was left. It was getting late. Liu fell down continuously, and stayed on the lee side of a rock, semi-conscious. The other three pushed on. Liu used some oxygen, savoring warmth, and became sober. Proceeded to turn off the oxygen and wrote a note for the three - “There is still some oxygen in the canister. You three can use it when you come back. It may be helpful.” And fell asleep.
The other three went on 60° slopes in the dark, on all fours to avoid accident, navigating using starlight reflected on the snow.
150 feet from the summit, all three had run out of oxygen. Ditched the canisters. Inched their way to the summit.
At some place where rock bordered snow, Kongbu, who was in front, suddenly shouted, ``It’s downhill to go on.’’
Quietly, in darkness and surrounded by silhouette of the mountains, they crawled to the top of the world. It was 4:20 am, May 25, Beijing time (UT+8), 19 hours after they had started. 15 minutes later, they left the flag, the status of Mao, and a note at the summit and went down with some rock samples (gift for Chairman Mao). Liu was waiting for them with his oxygen at 8,700 meters, saved their lives.
They were back to BC. Wang and Qu were 176 lb and 170 lb before they had climbed. And 111 lb and 110 lb after.
After the PR China was founded in 1949, there have been two Extras from the official newspaper People’s Daily: one was the first Chinese ascent of Mt Qomolungma, the other was the successful A-bomb test made by China during the heydays of the Cold War.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
When they hear the term "aerobic conditioning," most people think of things like running and cycling. Indeed, rock climbing probably doesn't occur to many as a way to improve heart and lung function. But researchers in Italy put climbing to the test and found that it's actually very aerobic according to a report just published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
The scientists enlisted 13 recreational rock climbers (8 men and 5 women) and tested their aerobic fitness (VO2max, etc) in a lab. Then the subjects strapped on a portable system for measuring oxygen uptake and climbed easy routes on an 80-foot high wall. After the climb, blood lactate samples were taken.
What they discovered was that climbers of both genders naturally choose a speed that puts us near our performance/anaerobic threshold (I don't use the term lactate threshold because it's obsolete) and maintain this level of exertion. Of course, this makes sense because we generally want to get up a route quickly without going so hard that we flame out.
This level of exertion (about 73% of VO2max) is what the ACSM considers a good level for maintaining cardio fitness. Not surprisingly, they also found that rock climbers tend to have superior aerobic fitness (VO2 max around 40), roughly in the 85th percentile of the normal population.
As many of us know, climbing in an indoor gym is a form of moderate- to high-intensity interval training (something that gets a lot of buzz in the fitness world these days). The typical length of each bout, including recovery, is 9 minutes and this is repeated 10 to 15 times per session, with two to three sessions per week. In this study, they found that climbing burned 1000 - 1500 calories per week.
The bottom line is rock climbing is both good resistance training, which we already knew, and also decent aerobic training. Of course, if you have higher goals such as mountaineering, you still have to do endurance aerobic workouts and serious resistance training (read: lifting weights).
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Following up on my post Top Ten Climbing Books of All Time, here are 40 more titles that are well worth seeking out. These books offer good reading as well as historical perspectives. Some are out of print so it will take some effort to track them down. If you have more suggestions, please leave comments.
Barker, Ralph. The Last Blue Mountain. The 1957 Harmosh expedition.
Bates, Robert G. Five Miles High. First American K2 expedition in 1938.
Bechtold, Fritz: Nanga Parbat Adventure. Ten fatalities in 1934.
Boardman, Peter. The Shining Mountain. Two men on Changabang.
Bonatti, Walter. The Great Days. A more recent autobiography with more epic ascents.
Bonington, Chris. Annapurna: South Face. An epic ascent.
Brown, Joe. The Hard Years. One of the hardest of the hard.
Browne, Belmore. The Conquest of Mount McKinley. Written in 1913.
Burdsall, Richard. Men Against the Clouds. Americans on Minya Konka in 1932.
Clinch, Nicholas. A Walk in the Sky. Only American first ascent of an 8000 m peak, in 1958.
Davidson, Art. Minus 148º. Denali in winter, say no more.
Diemberger, Kurt. K2: The Endless Knot. The tragic summer of 1986.
Ferlet, René. Aconcagua: South Face. Epic first ascent in 1955.
Harding, Warren. Downward Bound. A humorous perspective of Yosemite and climbing in the early 1970’s.
Hargreaves, Alison. A Hard Day's Summer. Six classic north faces, solo.
Harrer, Heinrich. Seven Years in Tibet. A fantastic true story.
Heckmair, Anderl, My Life As a Mountaineer. Much more than the Eiger.
Herzog. Maurice. Annapurna. First conquest of an 8000 m peak, in 1950.
Hunt, John. The Ascent of Everest. The official account of the 1954 first ascent.
King, Clarence. Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. What they were doing in 1872 will surprise you.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. One perspective of the 1996 Everest fiasco.
Languepin, Jean-Jaques. To Kiss High Heaven. Missing climbers on Nanda Devi in 1951.
Maraini, Fosco. Karakoram: The Ascent of Gasherbrum IV. Incredibly difficult climb in 1958.
Messner, Reinhold. The Seventh Grade. Postulations on the future of climbing from a 1973 perspective.
Messner, Reinhold. Solo Nanga Parbat. Probably the best from the best.
Murray, William. Mountaineering In Scotland. Hard routes in the 1930’s.
Newby, Eric. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Afghanistan adventure in 1956.
Patey, Tom. One Man's Mountains. Wry Scottish humor and hardcore climbs.
Rebufatt, Gaston. Starlight and Storm. Six of the greatest north faces in the Alps.
Ridgeway, Rick. The Last Step. Americans on K2 in 1978.
Robinson, Doug. A Night On the Ground. Sierra Nevada climbing tales.
Roper, Steve. Camp 4. A controversial history of Yosemite’s Golden Age.
Rowell, Galen. The Vertical World of Yosemite. A classic about the Valley’s in the early 1970’s.
Shipton, Eric. Blank On The Map. One of the great explorers in the Karakoram.
Smythe, Frank. Camp Six. The 1933 Everest expedition.
Tasker Joe. Savage Arena. Hard climbs in the great ranges.
Tichy, Herbert. Cho Oyu. A successful small expedition in 1954.
Tilman, Bill. The Ascent of Nanda Devi. Brits and Americans join forces in 1936.
Whillans, Don. Portrait of a Mountaineer. The hardman’s hardman.
Whymper, Edward. Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69. One of the most famous mountaineering books ever published.
Kind of reassuring for folks who travel in grizzly country. This study was just published in the Journal of Wildlife Management:
We present a comprehensive look at a sample of bear spray incidents that occurred in Alaska, USA, from 1985 to 2006. We analyzed 83 bear spray incidents involving brown bears (Ursus arctos; 61 cases, 74%), black bears (Ursus americanus; 20 cases, 24%), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus; 2 cases, 2%). Of the 72 cases where persons sprayed bears to defend themselves, 50 (69%) involved brown bears, 20 (28%) black bears, and 2 (3%) polar bears. Red pepper spray stopped bears' undesirable behavior 92% of the time when used on brown bears, 90% for black bears, and 100% for polar bears. Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. All bear-inflicted injuries (n = 3) associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required). In 7% (5 of 71) of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached the bear in all cases. In 14% (10 of 71) of bear spray incidents, users reported the spray having had negative side effects upon themselves, ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71). Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country.Bottomline: you are safer using pepper spray than a gun if attacked by a bear. Not convinced? Read this report by one of the top bear researchers in Alaska. He strongly advocates pepper spray as the primary defense.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
File this one under: Good to know, hope I never need it.