Catching up on the Mount Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge? Find all the posts here.
Hey there! Thanks for sticking with me through the last two posts while I was talking about boring, non-mountaineering crap like gym workouts. Even though they’re really important and will totally help get your ass up the mountain, they’re a bit dry, aren’t they?
So today, I’m going to give you a big fat payoff for all your patience.
Today, we talk about training for Mt. Rainier by climbing big-ass mountains (or the closest substitutes available).
I know that just made your mouth water. So no long intros. Let’s dive in.
Your Weekly Training Hikes
While you can do most of your Mt. Rainier training in the gym, I urge you, for the sake of your sanity, to get out on the trail for at least one long training hike a week.
Long training hikes are great opportunities to test your gear, dial in your nutrition, and engage in sport-specific training. They’re also a hell of a lot more fun than running 37 laps around the park or spending five hours on a treadmill.
I personally like to knock out about half my weekly training volume in one big hike each Saturday. This allows me to climb cool routes relatively early in the season. It also makes for a more relaxed training schedule during the week.
Should I carry a heavy backpack?
I’ve blogged about wonders of the heavy backpack workout before. And I do think it’s a useful tool! But in my own Mt. Rainier training, I started carrying a heavy pack too early and ramped up the weight too fast. The results: sore hips and a nasty case of sciatica that took months to resolve.
Here’s a common sense approach so you can get your body used to carrying weight without totally wrecking yourself.
Early in the training season, just carry your normal daypack with food, water, extra clothing and survival supplies.
But once you’ve built a nice base of strength training (let’s say after 2–3 full training cycles), start increasing your pack weight by five pounds per week.
Your goal is to eventually do a few long training climbs hauling the same weight you will carry on Rainier. (That’s usually 30–40 lbs. for guided climbers and 40–50 lbs. for self-guided parties.)
If you have knee or hip issues, carry some of the weight as water. That way, you can empty it out when you reach the high point of your hike and save your joints on the descent.
Otherwise, carry the same weight up and down to improve stability and work slightly different muscle groups.
Another factor to pay attention to is elevation gain.
One of the things that makes a Mt. Rainier climb so challenging is the 10,000 ft. you must ascend in just a day or two. So when possible, choose hikes with lots of steep, sustained uphill.
Another tip is to use a GPS or an app like Strava to track your elevation gain. (Plug your phone into a portable battery to keep it awake for the whole hike.)
If you are able to train in the mountains, try to work your way up to 5,000 to 6,000 ft. elevation gain during your weekly long hike. You might not be able to hit quite those numbers if you’re training in the lowlands, but give it your best shot. (More tips for you flatlanders in a minute.)
Finally, remember that rest weeks apply to training hikes, too. Every four weeks or so, reduce your training volume and take a shorter hike.
Special Tips for Flatlanders
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to live in Washington or Colorado to train for the mountains. One thing that has impressed me about my Miss Adventure Pants readers is how many of you are training in places like Nebraska, Florida, and Texas.
And I trained for Kilimanjaro in Bangkok, Thailand, which is pretty much below sea level. So I totally get what you’re up against.
There are two keys to training for mountaineering without a mountain: 1) creativity, and 2) a high tolerance for boredom.
Because let’s be honest. Hiking up and down an overpass is always going to be way more monotonous than climbing snow couloirs in the Rockies.
But it’s also going to be SO MUCH COOLER when you actually get to Mt. Rainier and see that big white mofo towering over you. And I honestly think you have more to be proud of, because it really takes grit to train like that.
One thing you can do to fight boredom is to break your weekly long hike into two shorter hikes. Each should represent at least 25 percent of your weekly training volume.
And here are a few workouts to try if you don’t have a big, sustained slope to hike up:
Sometimes hiking up and down on a hilly trail can add up to surprising elevation gains. Turn on Strava, head for the hills for a few hours, and see what you come up with. Make it a game to increase your elevation gain each week and find new hills to hike.
If you have access to a short but steep trail section, put on your headphones, fire up Audible or your fav podcast, and start lapping your face off.
During my Mt. Rainier training, I had to go home to Cleveland for a week due to a family emergency. I scoured the internet and found a hiking trail called Furnace Run Loop that gains 360 ft. in 2 miles. For a little extra challenge, I cleaned out my mom’s pantry and threw about 20 soup cans in my pack.
Lapping that sucker eight times gave me 16 miles and almost 3,000 ft. of elevation gain. Not bad for little old Ohio!
OK, so maybe you live somewhere even flatter than Cleveland, if that’s possible. You’re gonna need to get creative. And your best bets are probably manmade structures.
Some unnatural stuff you can lap in the name of mountaineering training:
- High rise buildings (take the elevator down to avoid a dizzy descent)
- Parking garages
- Stadiums and amphitheaters (your local high school is often a good bet)
Keep your eyes out for other possibilities. Make the world your jungle gym.
It’s definitely no one’s first choice for a three-hour workout. But grabbing your backpack and hitting the stair mill can save a training day when you’re traveling for work or the weather is terrible.
Note that some gyms limit the amount of time you can use the aerobic equipment, though this policy is usually loosely enforced. To minimize interruptions, go when the place is a Scooby Doo ghost town.
Marathon Step Ups
The last resort of the scrappy mountaineer is to grab a bench or box, put on your weighted pack, and step on. Step off. Switch feet. Repeat.
I know people who do this for hours (an entire long-hike’s worth of stepping) while binge watching Netflix. It’s not fun. But it’s actually quite sport specific.
It also requires no special equipment, so it can totally save your ass during a blizzard, tornado, or other disaster that keeps you stuck at home.
Mt. Rainier Training Hikes on Big Ass Mountains
Want to ease into snow climbing and glacier travel before the main event? If you can spare a few vacation days to travel, the following routes will give you both a kick ass workout and a preview of life on Mt. Rainier.
All of these climbs take you high into the thin air above 10,000 ft. They’ll also give you an opportunity to test your gear, practice winter camping, and build your confidence on moderate to steep snow.
None of the following mountains is subject to a permit lottery. However, you may need to pick up a recreation pass or climbing permit from the ranger station before continuing to the trailhead.
As mentioned previously, it’s best to save these trips for your last few training cycles when you’re ready for long days and monster L!
(Full disclosure: I haven’t done all of these. However, numbers 2–5 are recommended by the National Park Service as warmups for unguided climbs up Mt. Rainier’s Emmons Glacier Route.)
1. Winter Ascent of Mt. Elbert’s East Ridge (Colorado)
A 14-mile climb with 4,900 ft. of elevation gain. The summit is at an elevation of 14,433 ft. – 23 ft. higher than Mt. Rainier. Tackling Elbert in the winter is a great way to get a feel for snow travel, high-altitude hiking, and winter camping. The route is nontechnical and doesn’t require glacier travel skills, but snowshoes will be helpful. Most groups camp overnight just below tree line. This climb can also be done in one epic day.
2. Mt. Adams South Climb (Washington)
A 12-mile climb with 6,700 ft. elevation gain. Maxes out at 12,276 ft. elevation, which should give you a good taste of hiking in thin air. Ideally done as an overnight trip with a camp at the Lunch Counter. Requires permits, which you can purchase at the Mount Adams Ranger Station in Trout Lake. Climbers will encounter a few sections of steep snow climbing, but the route is generally crevasse-free.
3. Avalanche Gulch, Mt. Shasta (California)
An 11-mile climb with 7,300 ft. of elevation gain to a max elevation of 14,176 ft.. The route requires moderate snow climbing and Class 3 scrambling, but no glacier travel. Can be climbed in one day, but most parties camp overnight at Lake Helen. Be sure to grab a summit pass at the trailhead. Best climbed in May and June when the snowpack is thick, but be alert for early-season avalanche danger.
4. Mt. Hood South Side (Oregon)
This extremely popular glacier climb is also known as the “Hogsback” or “Hogback Glacier.” Unless you enjoy parades, try to hit it during the week when the crowds are thinner. It’s the only entry on this list that’s typically climbed in one day. The 8-mi. route climbs 5,300 ft. to the summit of Mt. Hood at 11,250. You’ll need to negotiate crevasses and a bergshrund, so bring your glacier rope and crevasse rescue skills. Ice and rock fall are issues on any snow climb, but take special caution here.
5. Mt. Baker’s Easton Glacier (Washington)
A good technical warmup for parties planning to climb Mt. Rainier without a guide. This 14-mile climb gains a burly 7,500 ft. and maxes out at 10,778 ft. Requires solid glacier skills, including roped team travel and crevasse rescue. Most parties camp overnight around 5,500–5,800 ft. near the eastern moraine or Railroad Grade. Requires one section of steep snow climbing (called the Roman Wall) just below the summit plateau. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Recreation Pass to park at the trailhead.
See? Mt. Rainier training doesn’t have to be about slogging away in the gym for months. You get to play outside, too.
And if you can get outside for more than one training hike a week (or even do all of your aerobic endurance workouts on the trail), more power to you.
If this all sounds complicated, and you’d rather just have a coach just tell you what to do and when, I have the perfect thing for you.
Introducing the Everyday Hero’s Mt. Rainier Training Plan!
It’s a 21-week training plan with all your hikes mapped out for you. It even tells you how much weight to carry in your backpack! I’ve also included special training plans for all you flatlanders to help keep you motivated and prevent burnout. Plus an ebook, trip planner, workout log, wall calendar, and gear checklist.
Awesome. Well, I hope you’re already channeling your inner fitness nerd and planning your first Mt. Rainier training hike right now. And if you have any questions, be sure to pop into the Facebook Group. (You might even find a hiking buddy in there.)
Well, that’s enough of me banging on for today. Stop back tomorrow for a look at the skills you should be practicing to prepare for a Mt. Rainier climb. If you’re climbing unguided, you won’t want to miss this one!