Training Questions Answered by SFS Alumna

My name is Stephanie Maltarich and I climbed Mt. Shasta with Summit for Someone last year.  Based on my experience, I’m sure there are one million things running through climber’s minds as fundraising wraps up and the climb rapidly approaches. I remember I would often fall asleep and dream  training. Preparing for the climb can be daunting if this is your first big climb, so I gathered some notes for new climbers and their questions:

Descending from Mt. Shasta's summit

1. How do I prepare for altitude? Unfortunately, there is no special way to prepare for altitude if you live in the lowlands. I am lucky that I live in Denver at 5,280 feet, and can also escape to the mountains when I please. My advice: prepare the best you can in every other way and your SFS guides will be sure to plan your climb so you can acclimate and succeed. Another option is to arrive to your climbing destination a few days early to start acclimating.

2. What’s the best way to spend my time if I only have 10-15 hours per week to train? I have trained for three very high  peaks within the last 3 years, and my training plans have been remained mostly the same, not to mention they set me up for success! Maybe you only have limited time, but the point is that you have time and will be successful if you focus on quality training.  I followed a training plan from Alpine Ascents provided for Denali climbers. Of course I took it down a few notches, but it provided me with a general outline of what I needed to be doing, I suggest taking a look at it!

Here is what I do to train for a big climb:

  • Cardio: for me it is either running or biking. My workouts range from 30 minutes to two or more hours. (1-3 x week)
  • STAIRS! I think this may have been the most effective part of training. When I lived in Mexico City I lived near bridge with three points of access. I would spend an hour going slow with my backpack or without my backpack running, skipping stairs, etc. I have been told stairs are the best thing you can do to train for a  mountain climb. (1 x week)
  • Yoga or pilates. This builds strength, core strength, and flexibility. I used this instead of weight training, because I don’t like weight training! Developing strength in your legs and core are very important and yoga, pilates or weights will help. (1-3 x week)
  • Weekly hike. On Tuesday nights myself and other SFS climbers in Denver hiked a nearby “mountain” with heavy packs. It took about 1-1.5 hours. It was also super fun!
  • Get out on the weekend! Do a hike, climb, go for a bike ride-whatever you can to be active.

3. Is strength training very important? What if I don’t have weights or go to a gym? As stated above, I think it can be important, but I also don’t think it is the most important thing. Another option to build strength is find an indoor climbing gym and climb there once a week. Several people on my climb did zero strength training and still reach the summit successfully.

4. Do you think I should hike with mountaineering boots before, or just rent them the day of the climb? There are two schools of thought here. The first believes buying your own boots ahead of time will allow you to break them in and you will not have any surprises during the climb because you are used to them. The other option is to rent the boots from a gear shop when you arrive at the climbing destination. This will save you a ton of money on expensive boots, but you never really know how your feet will feel during the climb. People on my climb who rented boots had a positive experience.

5. What is the best way to add weight to a pack? 5 lbs of flour? Flour would be awesome. But I would add a heck of a lot more than 5 pounds! When you hike into camp, your pack will weigh about 40 lbs. Your summit pack will be much lighter, but it’s a good idea to prepare for the hike in. We had to hike with our heavy packs for two days before the summit day. I sometimes add books or my climbing gear, I’ve seen others add rocks, climbing ropes, sand, flour, water etc. It also never hurts to add everything you will be taking on the climb that you already own.

6. What are the key things I need in my pack for a day hike? REI has a great list of the 10 essentials for a day hike, check it out here.

7. Do I need to take a wilderness first aid class before climbing? Nope. Your guides will not only be expert climbers, but they will also have wilderness first aid, wilderness first responder or a wilderness EMT certifications.

8. Can you give me an idea of what to expect on Mt. Shasta? Last year on Mt. Shasta our climb was three days long. The first day we met our guides in the morning and  drove to the trailhead. We then hiked a few miles into our first camp at about 8,000 feet. We had many hours to hang out and relax after we set up camp. The next day we hiked up further to about 10,000 feet and set up camp once again.  We went to bed in the early evening, around 6pm, and woke up at 11 pm to get ready to depart for the summit at 1:00 am. We left at around 1:30 am and were at the summit at 7:37 am!  We spent a long time on the summit as it was a beautiful day. We then descended to camp for a few hours and broke down camp, then hiked all the way out to our cars.  I think all in all it was a 12-14 hour day! You will get a very detailed itinerary similar to this when you have your conference call with Big City Mountaineers and your guide service before your trip.

9. Is there a way to connect with other first-time climbers to compare notes? Sure, if you are interested you can email Hillary at and she can put you into contact.

10. The gear list is so long, what should I get first? What is most important? Luckily you already get an ice axe, backpack and helmet from BCM, so check those off the list! Think about what you already have. If you are going to buy boots, buy those first so you can start breaking them in. If you need clothes start making a list and start shopping! Other than boots, it doesn’t really matter what order you buy your gear in.

Good luck and have fun climbing!


2 responses to “Training Questions Answered by SFS Alumna

  1. Great article Stephanie -especially for us newbies!

  2. Like it! Thanks!