11. How to Make an Awesome Post Climbing Recovery
Catching up on the Mount Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge? Find all the posts here.
Holy balls, we’ve finally come to it. The final post in the series.
I’ve had so much fun writing these for you. Because the whole time, I’ve been thinking about you up on the mountain, changing your life and kicking ass!
And for our final installment, I want to talk briefly about life AFTER Mt. Rainier.
Now it may seem crazy to think about, especially if you’re already in the thick of training and planning. But there will come a day when Mt. Rainier is over and behind you.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
Now, I bring this up because the post-trip period tends to be a time of physical exhaustion and high emotion. (Yes, even for you dudes sometimes.)
Hopefully you will be on cloud 9 after summiting and enjoying good weather, smooth travel, awesome teamwork, and no major close calls or incidents.
But it’s also OK to come home with mixed feelings, questions, and regrets. And it’s totally normal to be really, really tired for awhile (which makes the feels more intense).
So for our final post of this series, here are some tips on post climbing recovery for both your mind and body.
Dealing with Disappointment and Feels
Now I know this is kind of a downer to think about, but only about 50 percent of the people who climb Mt. Rainier via Emmons Glacier or Disappointment Cleaver actually summit.
And yes, they have to count people who attempt to climb without a rope in sports sandals. So your odds are actually better than that, because my readers tend to be serious about training and preparation.
But the truth is, lots of things can happen on the mountain that are totally out of your control.
And even if you do summit, it’s normal to come down with some mixed feelings. Because as human experiences go, this one is pretty effing intense.
So let’s take a moment to hold hands and talk about our feels. **strums ukulele**
If you didn’t make it to the top
Welcome to mountaineering! This is exactly what you signed up for. (And no, I’m not being sarcastic.)
When I climbed Orizaba last year, there was a climber in the base camp hut who didn’t summit. She actually seemed completely blown away by this.
“It’s the first time I didn’t get to the top,” she kept telling people.
My thought was, Then you haven’t been doing this very long.
Here’s the truth. You won’t summit every mountain you climb. And as you step up and go for bigger stuff, the risk of failure rises dramatically. (And I would definitely consider a Mt. Rainier climb a step up for most climbers.)
On the mountain, there are just so many factors that are out of your control. You get no say in the weather or the snow conditions. You don’t get to choose whether or not you get altitude sickness.
And even with the stuff you can control, you’re a human who will make mistakes. (I didn’t summit Orizaba either. Looking back, there are some things I’d have done differently with my training and preparation. I’m not perfect.)
So it’s really important to approach mountaineering with a pure love of the sport. Because that’s what you can control. When you enjoy the journey, the summit is just icing.
Even if you didn’t make it to the summit, you probably went through an amazing transformation to even get to the trailhead of Mt. Rainier.
You almost certainly improved your health and fitness. (Yes, even if you didn’t train perfectly.)
But even more, you showed the universe that you are HERE TO PLAY. You took on this big, risky goal knowing there was a high possibility of failure. You faced your fears. You pushed through doubts.
Seriously, the universe loves that shit. I tend to think it comes back to you in all kinds of mysterious little ways.
So even if you didn’t summit, you are almost certainly a stronger, braver, tougher, and more determined person. Which is really what it’s all about.
As Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves.”
Accept that no trip is perfect
If you go on lots of big mountaineering trips, you will realize that it is more normal than not for them to go a little balls up.
You lose your gear (or the airline loses it for you). Flights get canceled. Weather sucks. Altitude sickness happens. Teammates argue and say things under stress that they normally wouldn’t.
So if you’re feeling disappointed that things didn’t go perfectly, take a deep breath and try to get some perspective. Mountaineering is often a great reminder that we can’t control everything in life.
One of the best things you can do is to give yourself time. After failing to summit Orizaba in 2017, I came home really exhausted and questioning what the foo I was doing in this sport. But after a month of rest and fun, I was totally excited to climb again.
By the way, humor and play are great antidotes to frustration. Often the crappy things that happen on mountaineering trips make hilarious stories later.
The post-trip letdown
Whether or not you summited, it’s normal to feel a bit of a letdown once the climb is over. You’ve been consumed by this big goal for months. And now that your moment has passed, there can be a feeling of emptiness that sets in.
If you’re feeling a little blue, my first advice is to rest. (More on that in a minute.) It’s so much easier to face the world with optimism when your body isn’t run into the ground.
Second, look for ways to reconnect with awesome people. Chances are, you lost touch with some of your non-mountaineering friends during the peak training period. So this is a great time to show them some love. And it will be good for your soul, too.
Third, focus on your other hobbies. Don’t become one of those mountaineering nerds who’s always training for the next big peak and can’t talk about anything else. That’s so boring.
And finally, give it time. You can’t step out of your life to do all this crazy training and climbing, and then step right back in like nothing ever happened. Usually the reconnecting happens bit by bit over a matter of weeks or months. And that’s totally fine and normal.
Physical Rest and Recovery
Sure, it would be awesome to be an endurance beast 24-7-365. But if you trained at your peak all year, your body would fall apart and you would probably be miserable.
So after your climb, take at least a week off completely from training. Go walk around Seattle and have a nice seafood dinner (you will probably be ravenous). Check out the market with the flying fish. Get a massage and a pedicure.
Then, for about a month after your climb, keep your workouts fun and unstructured. Go ride your mountain bike, if you’ve been missing it. Take a kid or your partner hiking. Do whatever appeals to you and makes you feel healthy.
While you can’t be at peak performance all of the time, you can still maintain excellent fitness by doing at least one long aerobic workout and 1–2 medium-intensity weight lifting sessions every week. (Yes, it’s way easier to maintain fitness than to build it.)
Planning your Next Climb
So you’re kinda hooked on this mountaineering thing, are ya? (I’m totally not surprised. Mt. Rainier is such a gateway drug.)
Well then, it’s never too early to start planning your next trip. Because there’s so much prep that goes into mountaineering, it’s actually smart to think 1–3 years ahead.
You could go for something bigger or more technical. A Mt. Rainier climb can totally warm you up for trips to South America, Canada, Alaska, Europe, and Asia.
You could also climb another route on Mt. Rainier. After Disappointment Cleaver or Emmons Glacier, many people step up to Kautz Glacier, which involves rappelling and technical ice.
And if you loved Washington, check out some of the surrounding volcanoes. They’re not as tall as Mt. Rainier, but some have routes that make quite interesting technical climbs.
And there’s also no rule that you have to go hard forever now. If Mt. Rainier is the biggest, most technical mountain you ever attempt, that’s awesome. Never, at any point in your mountaineering career, be ashamed to step back and play on less demanding routes.
So there you have ’em. 11 days of Mt. Rainier planning and training posts.
Now if you are still hungry for more advice on Mt. Rainier training and preparation — or if you seriously can’t get enough of me crapping on — I have just the thing for you!
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I sincerely hope this series was helpful. And now that your a Mt. Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge alum, I really encourage you to hop in my free Facebook Group, Everyday Hero’s Mountaineering Training and Fitness, to share your plans and progress.
It’s a great place to ask questions and chat with me and all your fellow mountaineering nerds.
And it’s also a place where you can post pics of yourself climbing so we can all go bonkers and celebrate the journey with you.
So I totally hope to see you there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my house looks like a deep slab avalanche just crashed through it, so I really must go do the dishes.
Happy training, prepping, and climbing!