Training: The weekly grind

A couple years ago, my friend Lee took me up Mount Morrison, a peak directly behind Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the legendary music venue about 20 minutes from downtown Denver. There’s no maintained trail to the top, just a loose collection of social trails that weave in and out and all converge at the summit.

Thanks, Google Maps.

Thanks, Google Maps.

The hike up Mount Morrison is brutal, gaining 1,440 feet of elevation in a map half-mile (or about 7/10 of a mile, according to fancy mapping software). Either way, it’s steep, and it kind of sucks — loose rock in a lot of spots, and sometimes the trail is so vertical it’s hard to get footing to keep going up. Going down is worse.

So, it’s perfect to train for a climb of, say, Mount Shasta.

I have three friends who are also doing the June 12 SFS Mount Shasta climb, and we all decided to train together once a week until we leave for our trip. Everybody does their own thing the rest of the week (yoga, Bikram yoga, exercise bike, treadmill, bike commuting, climbing gym), but every Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., we meet at the upper Red Rocks parking lot and slog up Mount Morrison. It’s a 45-minute hike up and a 45-minute hike down.

We’re going to be doing the whole thing in the dark until the end of April, when we’ll have a little bit of sunlight at the start. At the pace we hike, we’ll be getting to the top just as the sun sets a few weeks before we go on our climb.

Steph, Robb and special guest Greg Woods at the top of Mount Morrison this past Tuesday night. If you squint, you can see the lights of Denver. I'm not a good photographer.

Steph, Robb and special guest Greg Woods at the top of Mount Morrison this past Tuesday night. If you squint, you can see the lights of Denver. I'm not a good photographer.

“Good for you,” you’re probably thinking, “but I live in Chicago/Texas/Florida/New York and don’t have a Mount Morrison in my backyard. What should I do?”

If you don’t have a mountain, or a hill in your neighborhood, I think the best thing you can do is simulate the motion of climbing mountains.* Stairmaster = good, actual stairs = better.

I think a flight of stairs is better because once you’ve gone up, you have to go down, too, so your muscles get used to “putting on the brakes,” similar to what you’ll experience coming down from the summit. I trained for a one-day climb of the Middle Teton last summer on a flight of 8 stairs in my apartment building, throwing a couple ropes in my pack for weight. I just repeated the same flight over and over, two stairs at a time, until I got to 1,600 stairsteps, or about 1,000 vertical feet.

Boring? Yes. No worse than a treadmill, though. And it helped a ton.

If you’re lucky, you can find a much longer flight of stairs — I used to work in the Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News building in downtown Denver, and from the very bottom basement floor to the 12th floor, there were 303 uninterrupted stairs. That was a killer. A couple times a day, I’d jump up from my desk on the 10th floor, fly down to the basement and hike up all the way to the 12th floor, two stairs at a time. Sometimes I’d repeat all 303 stairs, if I had time. Otherwise, I’d just go back and do another set later, and at the end of the day, wouldn’t leave the office until I’d done 1,000 total stairs.

You’ll be carrying a pretty heavy pack on your climb, too, so as you train, start throwing some weight in a backpack to haul up the stairs with you. I use ropes, but chains, water jugs, and books all work fairly well. Just don’t overdo it at the start, and gradually work your way up to a good weight.

*I am not a trainer or a coach, just a guy who’s slogged up a few mountains.

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